Jerry Jones’ Worst Decision That Never Happened
The Dallas Cowboys were on the lookout for a new quarterback in the spring of 2001, having just released the legendary Troy Aikman. It was unfamiliar territory for a Jerry Jones regime that had walked into Valley Ranch for the first time in 1989 virtually holding to the golden right hand of Aikman.
Now twelve years later, it was time to seek a replacement. Without a first-round selection to look forward to in the draft, the free-agent wire was the operative avenue to find one. Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, and Tony Banks were the cream of the available crop. Or so went the reports. The Cowboys, so the story goes, had their eye on someone else. Just who that someone was, is of definite interest.
“In the spring, we did an evaluation of Ryan [Leaf],” Jerry Jones said in September of 2001. “At that time, we thought he could help our team and have potential for the future. That hasn’t changed. He was our top choice in the spring for a veteran to come in, even before we made the Tony Banks decision.”
An injury to his throwing wrist prevented the Cowboys from signing Leaf at the time, leading to the acquisition of Banks, an association that failed to see the end of August. (Dallas eventually signed Leaf in early September to fill a backup role.)
There are so many ways that history could tell an even harsher tale of the 2001 season for the Cowboys had Leaf been healthy that spring. Rather than subbing for injured rookie Quincy Carter during a three-game stretch in November, Leaf might have actually been the full-time starter in Dallas for the entire season, a possibility too painful to even contemplate.