The San Francisco 49ers appear to be lining up options at cornerback for the 2013 season and beyond. Eric Wright, acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, gives the team another low-risk corner with tremendous incentive to perform well this season.
Wright carries a relatively modest $1.5 million salary and is signed only through 2013. Current 49ers corners Tarell Brown, Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock also are entering the final year of their contracts. Carlos Rogers' already high price tag jumps higher in 2014, calling into question whether he'll remain under contract to the team for the long haul at his current price, if at all.
Wright has much to prove before he'll displace anyone, however.
"He played poorly for the Bucs and has always been known as a high-risk character guy, but he played well with the Browns in the past and is more of a man corner, which is good for the 49ers," Matt Williamson, NFL scout for ESPN.com, said Friday. "This move makes sense for both teams because the Niners are not married to him as a starter. It's a win-now move -- rent a guy for a year and create a lot of competition at a position the way Pete Carroll has done in Seattle."
Wright played under new 49ers assistant coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. Mangini presumably has a good feel for Wright and how best to use him. That connection could have better informed the 49ers' decision to send a conditional 2014 draft choice to Tampa Bay for Wright.
49ers' Key CBs by Salary
Rogers and Brown have higher annual salary averages and higher 2013 scheduled base salaries than Wright. The other corners on the roster -- notably Asomugha, Brock and Chris Culliver -- are similar to Wright in their relative affordability. The chart breaks down the numbers.
Wright gives the team another option this season, and potentially for 2014, when the position could change quite a bit. Rogers' salary-cap figure climbs past $8 million in 2014. Brown is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent then. Asomugha, Brock and Perrish Cox also are without deals beyond 2013.
Rogers and Culliver are the only primary 49ers cornerbacks with deals beyond the coming season.
Wright has an opportunity to restart his career following a disappointing end to his tenure with Tampa Bay. His involvement in a 2012 DUI case (charges were dropped) predated a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Wright was also reportedly arrested in Los Angeles last week on unknown charges.
Of course, if Wright carried none of that baggage, the Buccaneers would have been more apt to keep him. Tampa Bay was in better position to part with Wright, a 10-game starter in 2012, after drafting one high-profile cornerback (Johnthan Banks) and acquiring another (Darrelle Revis).
The 49ers are taking little risk from a financial standpoint. They might have to endure questions about their stated commitment to players who are upstanding citizens, but every team grants second chances when price, need and opportunity align. The conflict comes only when teams pretend they care about character above all else. There are always tradeoffs in personnel. Why not be honest about them?
From a football standpoint, Wright could be versatile enough to play in the slot, where Rogers has played.
"He is not super physical, but I think he can play the slot," Williamson said. "Bigger picture, you could see their first-rounder being a corner next year."