Dallas Cowboys’ Faith in Anthony Wright Went Beyond Reason in 2001
In writing the book Decade of Futility I spent an entire chapter dealing strictly with Jerry Jones’ quarterback carousel of 2001, paying close attention to the Quincy Carter and Clint Stoerner sagas. What has gone unnoticed therein is that I ultimately edited out an additional story to this heavily stacked segment. To include it would only show how poor the management and talent evaluation was for the Cowboys in those days, which had already been heavily inferred by the chapter anyway. So in order not to get bogged down and be redundant, I left it out.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t compelling, nor of consequence. Because it is.
The story centers around reserve quarterback Anthony Wright and a knee injury suffered during Dallas’ Week 5 victory over Washington on Monday Night Football. The game, typical of the times, was a snoozer, the Cowboys nipping the Redskins 9-7 on a last-second field goal by Tim Seder.
And while ABC was bemoaning lackluster ratings and heavy criticism of color commentator Dennis Miller, Jerry Jones was riding a rare emotional high after seeing his team grab their first win of the season, telling reporters afterwards, “I got a little of that Super Bowl feeling again.”
Jones’ mood suffered a severe drop-off over the next 24 hours as team doctors broke the news: Wright’s knee was damaged to the point that, while he technically could still suit up and play on Sundays, it would be far safer if Wright were to immediately undergo surgery to repair it.
There was no secret about the fact that the Cowboys wanted Wright to put off surgery and continue standing in for the injured Quincy Carter, until Carter was healthy enough to re-take the field in early December.
Wright, on the other hand, wanted to protect his career’s longevity, and never thought twice about his decision to go under the knife, thus ending his season.
As a consequence, the Cowboys soured on Wright, cutting ties altogether with the four-year pro the following August. Their reasoning was simple enough: coaches and certain team officials didn’t think Wright cared enough about football, which, ironically enough, was the exact same reason they opted to cut Tony Banks before him.
But did Jerry Jones really need a banged-up Anthony Wright as his quarterback? Should he really have been Jones’ preference at that juncture?
Ultimately, the organization put their foot down with Wright; either suck it up, or else….
The timing for such hard-ball management is particularly odd. Wright was no star in the making. He had entered the 2001 season as the No. 3 quarterback and, after roughly 14 quarters of action over the season’s first five weeks, Wright had done his “backup” label justice.
He could throw for three touchdowns the first half, and three interceptions in the second. He could throw for 180 yards one week, and only 80 the next.
He was a better passer than Carter, but relied heavily upon his legs to get him out of trouble when the pocket collapsed, which it was wont to do quite often that season.
And now, with a bum knee and severely limited mobility, it is a wonder the Cowboys could envision that version of Wright being as, or more, effective than Clint Stoerner. Wright’s ability to scramble, one could argue, was the only thing that offensive coordinator Jack Reilly had learned to trust. Trailing Oakland 28-21 during their Week 4 contest and facing a fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining, Reilly didn’t call for an off-tackle run by Emmitt Smith, or even a quick slant pattern to Joey Galloway. He, instead, opted for a quarterback draw with Wright.
The result (Wright was stopped short of the line to gain) is of no consequence when compared to the philosophy. The offense really had only one thing working for them when Wright was under center: his mobility.
But with that vanished in the wreckage of an unfortunate injury against Washington, what were the Cowboys expecting to place their faith in for the next game?