Eric Wright's best season yet, and his first with the Detroit Lions, coincided with the Lions' return to the playoffs after an 11-year absence in 2011. Now Wright will have a chance to do it again: Take another step forward in his career while helping his new team get back to the postseason.
And this time, he'll have a longer deal to get it done. On Wednesday, still within the first 24 hours of the NFL's 2012 free agency period, Wright signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have taken an immediate and high-spending approach to the open market. Wright is the second player the Buccaneers have signed in the early hours of free agency, following the $55.5-million acquisition of former San Diego Chargers wide receiver .
Wright became an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday for the second year in a row. In 2011, the former Cleveland Brown agreed to a one-year deal with the Lions during the hasty and abbreviated free agency period in July that followed the signing of the league's new collective bargaining agreement. In his one season in Detroit, Wright started all 16 games, tied his career high with four interceptions, set a new single-season standard with 16 passes defensed and fell just one tackle shy of his career-best 74 stops in 2008. The Lions finished 10-6 after a 6-10 campaign in 2010 and secured a Wild Card berth for their first playoff appearance since 1999.
Originally a second-round pick by the Browns (#53 overall) in 2007, the 5-10, 190-pound Wright has played in 75 games with 71 starts over five NFL seasons and has never started fewer than 10 games in any campaign. He has totaled 324 tackles, including 266 solo stops, as well as 13 interceptions, one sack, three forced fumbles and 61 passes defensed. Wright has been dynamic with the ball in his hands, averaging 19.5 yards per interception return, including one he returned 94 yards for a touchdown with Cleveland in 2008.
The acquisition of Wright addresses a cornerback position that could be an immediate need in Tampa, and is at the very least in need of near-term additions. Both starter Ronde Barber and reserve Elbert Mack are unrestricted free agents and Barber has not yet decided if he will play a 16th NFL season. Coupled with the quick move to get Jackson, Wright's deal positions the Buccaneers as the team that has most aggressively used the rich 2011 free agency field to address its most pressing needs, and there are indications the team is far from done.
Wright's ball-hawking skills will help a Buccaneers defense that tied for 20th in the NFL in 2011 with 14 interceptions, led by Barber's three. Overall, Tampa Bay ranked 21st in the league in pass defense, surrendering 238.4 yards per play and giving up 30 completions of 25 or more yards.
Wright didn't take long to command a starting spot in Cleveland, opening 13 of the 14 games he played in during his 2007 rookie campaign. He made an immediate splash, too, combining 73 tackles (66 solo) with one sack, one interception and 11 passes defensed. Over the next two seasons he would rank as one of the top playmakers in Cleveland's secondary, racking up a combined seven interceptions and two forced fumbles while topping 65 tackles and 11 passes defensed each year.
Wright began his collegiate career at USC, where he played two years, capped by an interception in the 2005 Orange Bowl, which the Trojans won by a score of 55-19 over Oklahoma. He then transferred to UNLV and played one season for the Rebels before declaring for the NFL draft following his junior season. He hails from San Francisco, California.