All of a sudden, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' splashy free-agent class isn’t looking quite as good as it did back in March, or even September or October.
A little more luster came off the class Monday as coach Greg Schiano said that cornerback Eric Wright will serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, starting immediately.
Wright, receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks were the trio of marquee players the Bucs signed at the start of free agency in March. Wright got a five-year contract worth $37.5 million and Nicks and Jackson got even bigger deals.
Jackson has been a success story, providing quarterback Josh Freeman with a true No. 1 receiver for the first time in his career. Nicks played well before going on injured reserve after seven games.
But Wright has been something of a question mark all along. He missed part of the offseason program for medical reasons that the team never detailed.
Wright appeared in the first 10 games and his play was unspectacular. He made 39 tackles and had one interception. He’d been bothered by an Achilles tendon injury in recent weeks and missed Sunday’s game against Atlanta.
His absence leaves the Bucs dangerously thin at cornerback, since they previously traded starter Aqib Talib, who also was issued a four-game suspension for violating the same policy. Talib was traded to New England three games into his suspension.
E.J. Biggers took over Talib’s starting job and undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson got the start in Wright’s place Sunday and was targeted on an 80-yard touchdown pass to Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. LeQuan Lewis, Myron Lewis and Danny Gorrer are the only other cornerbacks currently on the roster.
But the Bucs could consider moving safety Ronde Barber back to cornerback. Barber played that position his entire career before moving to safety this season.
Moving Barber, 37, would be only a short-term solution. But short-term solutions are the only possibilities for the Bucs at this point in the season.
It’s becoming quite obvious they’ll have to add at least a couple of cornerbacks via the draft and free agency. And maybe the Bucs should look at Wright as a cautionary tale that nothing is guaranteed (other than $15 million in base salary over the course of the first two years of Wright’s contract) with players that aren't being re-signed by their current teams.