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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Eric Wright vs. the Bucs: How it all unfolded



When it was revealed Friday that cornerback Eric Wright lost his grievance hearing against the Bucs, the outcome was clear: Tampa Bay may void the guarantees in his deal and may release him with no consequence.

But if you’re interested in how it all unfolded, and why Wright felt the need to take this action, we have the decision written by arbitrator Shyam Das, a document that sheds much light.

Let’s start on December 19: That’s when the Bucs sent a letter to Wright informing him of their decision to void the guarantees in his contract based on their stance that he did not comply because he was suspended for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

The letter contained the following language: “As you know, you were recently suspended for four (4) regular-season games by the NFL. As a result of your suspension, during Weeks 13-16 of the 2012 NFL Season, you failed to practice and play with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Therefore, please be advised that the Paragraph 5 Conditional Skill, Injury and Cap Guarantees for the 2012 and 2013 League Years in your NFL Player Contract dated on or about March 13, 2012, have been rendered null and void.”

This tells us that the Bucs long ago made their decision to carry through with this action, and likely decided then to release Wright at a later time – long before the season even ended.

Fast forward to Feb. 4, and we learn that’s when Wright’s lawyers filed the grievance on his behalf. Their argument: That the team did not have the right to void the guarantees because the contract contained no specific language indicating that a PED suspension equated to a breach of contract.

According to Wright’s agents, the Bucs have negotiated multiple contracts that explicitly contain language calling for guarantees to be voided if a player violated the PED or substance-abuse policies. Wright’s own agents say such wording was included in the contract they personally negotiated for 2007 draft pick Arron Sears.

In the document, under the explanation of Wright’s position, it indicates that “Wright insists that any claim that his being barred from playing because of the Steroid Policy violation somehow constitutes a failure or refusal to play cannot overcome the Club's failure to negotiate the right to void the guarantees based on the Steroid Policy.”

In the end, the team justified its action based on the broad language contained in every contract, that a player is subject to financial forfeitures if his availability is impacted by anything not protected in the contract (family emergencies and the like).
In the written decision, arbitrator Das upheld the team’s position.

He wrote, “During his four-game suspension (Wright) clearly failed to practice or play with Club. The only express exception is spelled out – as Wright requested – in the final sentence of Addendum C, that is, if he fails to report due to an NFL football-related injury, illness or death. . . Some contracts provide examples of what is included; others do not. The wording and punctuation in Addendum C are confusing in some respects, but the critical words are sufficiently clear.” Das also cited a number of precedents that agree with his position, too.

And so ends the months-long debate over Wright’s contract, possibly bringing his tenure with the club closer to its end.

[Last modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 2:41pm]


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