TAMPA, Fla. — Eric Wright’s release is two days old, but inside One Buc Place, it might as well be two years. That is how quickly life moves in the NFL. There is a next-man-up ethos that lingers in facilities throughout the league, the competition for a chance fierce.
One player fails to cut it? There are more waiting, eager to prove their worth. The line between success and a quick ticket home is fine, an unfortunate injury or — in Wright’s case — a mental blunder enough to alter a player’s path to a negative result.
Wright failed a physical with the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, voiding a trade that would have sent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a conditional 2014 draft pick. By that point, the troubled cornerback had become damaged goods.
His days in red and pewter were over the moment he was arrested in Los Angeles on a misdemeanor DUI charge July 12 and later released on $5,000 bail. Wright has no one to blame but himself for the fall.
“We made an organizational decision with Eric,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said Wednesday. “Like with every decision we make, it’s the best decision we think that gives us the best chance to be successful and the best chance to win.”
In the end, Wright ran out of chances. He was on a short leash before the latest episode in Los Angeles. He restructured his contract in the offseason, following a year when he was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. That followed an arrest on suspicion of felony DUI in Los Angeles during the 2012 offseason (the charge was later dropped).
Sure, Wright has skill. That is why the Bucs signed him to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in 2012. That is why they were willing to kick his tires again this past offseason, when agreeing to a deal that would have paid him $1.5 million with another $1.5 million available in incentives even after the public gaffes.
Come Wednesday morning, however, Wright was old news. A shadow. A goner. A memory of an experiment gone bad.
“Any time you lose a player for any reason, in our business, we’re so much into moving on and working with the personnel that you have in your building,” Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. “Any time you lose a good player, it’s a loss, but we’ve done a good job in the secondary of acquiring other personnel at other positions and in the secondary as well. So we’ve definitely got a pool of talent in the back end, and we’ll have quality corners out there when we line up in our opener.”
That point is clear. Of course, the Bucs staged a massive secondary makeover in response to fielding the NFL’s weakest pass defense last season (297.4 yards per game).
On Thursday morning to start training camp, Tampa Bay will trot out cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks, Michael Adams and Leonard Johnson, plus others, who will be the “next men up.” One leaves. More wait to fill the gap.
This is the reality of NFL life: Mistakes are swept away, replaced by someone wearing a different number, with different values, with different discipline. The process rolls on.
“I can only talk about the players who are here now,” Bucs defensive backs coach Tony Oden told FOX Sports Florida. “I wish him the best of luck. I’m sure he’ll be fine in whatever he isn’t with us.”
The same goes for Tampa Bay. Given his off-the-field problems, Wright was more disappointment than difference-maker here. He was part of a touted free-agency class that included guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. But partly because of his suspension, he never had as high of a ceiling.
Wright’s impact with the Bucs: 10 games played, 37 tackles, one interception. That followed three of four seasons in which he had at least three interceptions with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.
He had talent. He let trouble taint it.
So instead of considering how Wright could start opposite Revis come Week 1, discussion Wednesday was about moving on. There were statements from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy like, “I think the secondary has a chance to be the best in the NFL,” and others from Oden like, “Young guys that are being introduced into the mix — they got a lot of snaps this spring.”
“Those aren’t easy, because you get to know people, and you get close to them,” Schiano said of moving past Wright. “But again, part of leadership is doing what’s best for the group, for the whole. Sometimes, that’s rough. … We do that. We’re not afraid to do that.”
Obviously, the Bucs were not afraid to cut ties with Wright. Likely, the move will be considered the right one when this season is studied.
Tampa Bay could not risk a fourth strike with him, his Bucs tenure already in flames.
By Wednesday, those ashes were swept away during talk of another training camp, another beginning. Schiano and other defensive coaches gave Wright’s departure brief mention. But mostly, this day was about looking ahead — not for thinking back to a chance lost.
“I really believe in the talent in our secondary,” McCoy said. “Coach Schiano and Coach Sheridan, their plan when they come together for the defense as a whole but definitely the secondary — they stick to it and really put the work in. This secondary will be special.”
That secondary will be minus Wright. Already, the Bucs are over him.