Analyzing Impact of Eric Wright Signing on San Francisco 49ers' Defense
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Niners immediately put Wright on the non-football injury/illness list, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
The 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers originally agreed to a trade on July 19 that would send Wright to San Francisco for a conditional draft pick, pending a physical. Wright failed a July 22 physical with the Niners, which made the trade void.
The Bucs then released Wright, giving the 49ers the opportunity to sign the free agent.
Let's break down the impact of the Wright signing for the Red and Gold.
What It Means
First off, we don't know how healthy Wright is. All we have is this quote from general manager Trent Baalke, per Inman, in reference to him being placed on the NFI list: "Eric is currently tending to a personal matter and he will join the team as soon as possible."
That quote could mean just about anything. What we do know is two-and-a-half weeks ago, the 49ers did not believe Wright was physically ready to perform.
So, my first observation is that the Niners must really like Wright's talent to give him a contract after deeming that he was damaged goods just 17 days prior. Most teams wouldn't give a player another chance after he failed a physical.
The other obvious observation is the 49ers are pretty desperate for quality cornerback depth.
This makes perfect sense, considering they just lost Chris Culliver, their No. 3 cornerback in snaps and No. 2 cornerback in effectiveness, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), last year, for the season.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hasn't exactly given him a ringing endorsement, either, per the Associated Press (via NFL.com):
He's had some good days out here and some days where you weren't sure if he was going to still have it. think we're kind of in between with him right now. Hopefully he'll be able to still have some gas left in his tank to go out there and play like he did prior to going to Philadelphia.
According to Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated, Fangio's critique of Asomugha led directly to Baalke inquiring about Wright again.
If Wright is healthy and avoids a suspension for his DUI arrest in July, he'll compete for the open nickel cornerback spot with Asomugha, Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox.
What Wright Brings to the Table
Two years ago, Wright was a hot commodity.
Fresh off a 2011 season in which he totaled nine interceptions and 17 pass breakups with the Detroit Lions, Wright signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Buccaneers.
That same offseason, Wright was suspended four games for Adderral use. He never recovered, finishing the 2012 season with just one interception and eight pass breakups as part of a dreadful Tampa Bay secondary that allowed the league's most passing yards per game.
Part of Wright's fall from respectability was Tampa Bay's weak pass rush, which finished with just 27 sacks last year. Just like with Asomugha, the 49ers are looking to rejuvenate the career of a former star with the hope that a better scheme and pass rush will do the trick.
One of Wright's best assets is his speed. According to NFL Draft Scout, he once ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash.
Whereas Carlos Rogers and Asomugha may not be able to keep up with the fastest receivers in the league, Wright should have no issue.
That being said, the 5'11", 192-pound defensive back has really struggled in pass coverage for some time. He hasn't recorded a positive pass coverage rating from Pro Football Focus since 2009 (subscription required).
That means he's been unable to put together a strong season with three different teams in the last three seasons.
With Wright, it seems like there are more questions than answers at this point. Assuming he's healthy and not facing a suspension, the 49ers should be pleased to nab a cornerback who has tons of experience and is still relatively young at 28 years old.
With Asomugha seemingly off to a slow start in training camp, Wright could have a shot at the nickel cornerback role. Perrish Cox and Tramaine Brock have little game experience, but both have the advantage of at least one season under Vic Fangio in the past.
Still, you have to believe the 49ers see something in Wright that no one else does. Considering his performance and baggage over the last year, it's somewhat surprising that Baalke and Co. took a chance on him.
Where would you rank Wright on SF's cornerback depth chart?
The former second-round pick doesn't lack for talent and may just need San Francisco's coaching to bloom into a quality player.
I expect Wright to see plenty of game action this year, and one injury to Tarell Brown or Rogers would force him into a major role. His speed and experience will be too noticeable to pass up as the 49ers evaluate their cornerbacks during training camp.
At worst, Wright is good insurance if Asomugha totally bombs. At best, he'll replace Culliver's production and help keep San Francisco's pass defense among the statistical leaders in the league.
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