TAMPA — The air raids against the Bucs' defense could intensify without starting cornerback Eric Wright.
The NFL informed Wright on Monday he has been suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Wright, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Bucs in March, apparently lost his appeal of the suspension that was disclosed in reports last month. The suspension begins immediately and will cost Wright $1,812,500 in salary, and ESPN reported that he loses the guarantee on his 2013 salary of $7.5 million. Wright is eligible to return Dec. 24, one day after the Bucs play the St. Louis Rams.
Wright is the second Bucs cornerback suspended for the non-prescription use of Adderall, a stimulant commonly used to treat ADHD. Cornerback Aqib Talib did not appeal his four-game suspension for Adderall use Oct. 13. With one week remaining on his suspension, the Bucs traded Talib and a seventh-round pick to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round selection in 2013.
In a statement, Wright expressed surprise the suspension was upheld.
"This is the result of taking Adderall at the end of July for health issues I was experiencing," Wright said. "I am extremely disappointed that the suspension was upheld at my appeal.
"I apologize to the Glazer family, general manager Mark Dominik, Coach (Greg) Schiano and the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, my teammates, our great fans and my family who have stood by me through this entire process. I will continue to prepare myself and look forward to rejoining the team."
Schiano said he does not believe the problem is widespread in the Bucs locker room. Seattle Seahawks defensive backs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner reportedly face four-game suspensions for Adderall use and are appealing. Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was suspended four games Monday for testing positive for a banned performance enhancing drug.
"Well, you can never be certain about anything," Schiano said. "I'm not one of the players. This is a widespread issue throughout the National Football League right now. It's certainly not Tampa exclusive. So I hope we educate our guys, we talk to them quite a bit. You do your best and then you've got to trust the guys you've brought here. I think that's where Mark and I just keep going back to the same thing, we're going to get guys we believe fit into what we're going to do and then we're going to educate them and coach them and help them grow. It's like raising kids, it's never going to be 100 percent but you do your best."
In 10 games, Wright recorded 39 tackles, seven passes defensed and one interception he returned 60 yards for a touchdown in Week 2 against the Giants. He had been plagued by an Achilles injury that prevented him from finishing games San Diego and Carolina and left him inactive Sunday against Atlanta.
Wright's suspension and the trade of Talib leave the Bucs, ranked 32nd and last against the pass, with inexperienced defensive backs to play alongside 16-year veteran safety Ronde Barber. Leonard Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Iowa State, has been starting at Wright's spot at right cornerback. E.J. Biggers, a seventh-round pick in 2009, is starting at Talib's spot at left corner. The Bucs have been using newly acquired LaQuan Lewis and Danny Gorrer.
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The Bucs travel to Denver to face four-time league MVP Peyton Manning on Sunday and have games remaining against the Eagles' Michael Vick, the Saints' Drew Brees and the Falcons' Matt Ryan.
Schiano said despite the changes at cornerback, he stood behind the decision to trade Talib.
"I think it probably lends to the confidence we have in our young players, that we felt we could do that and it was the best thing," Schiano said. "Every decision we make is what gives the organization the best chance to win. When we made that decision, that's what we thought was best.''
Schiano indicated that Wright would be welcomed back Dec. 24 and hopes he can play in the final regular-season game against the Falcons.
"I hope that he stays in condition so he can come back and participate," Schiano said. "It's the end of the year, there are a lot of variables. But I anticipate he will and that would lead to the next logical thought that we'd get him back because he's a good player."