If you want to feel old, look back on what you thought about Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz just two years ago.
Remember how you felt about Prescott during his Rookie of the Year season in 2016. Remember the excitement, the highlights, the compelling come-from-nowhere story, the MVP chatter, the near-certainty that he was about to take the NFL by storm and make the Cowboys a powerhouse for the next decade?
Now recall how you felt about Wentz. Sure, there was excitement, especially after the second overall pick in the 2016 draft led the Eagles to a scorching 3-0 start and turned Philadelphia into Carson City, Wentzylvania.
But by the 2016 midseason, when Prescott threw an overtime touchdown to Jason Witten to lead the Cowboys to a 29-23 victory over the Eagles, Wentz was just a Sam Darnold or Baker Mayfield, another rookie battling turnovers and inconsistency after a promising start. Prescott was on his way to becoming a sensation.
Wentz vs. Prescott was a hot television debate topic in those olden days. Provocateurs took predictable sides. Others approached the argument more logically, though the Prescott buzz was hard to tune out. Here in the written media, analysts provided deep-tissue breakdowns of the stats and film. Eagles and Cowboys fans—not known for their rational and civil discourse—engaged hostilities on an all-new battlefront.
The Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry had just ended, and here were two contrasting superstars-in-training poised to duel twice per year for another 10 years. And Prescott, the unheralded underdog, was lined up to be the Brady.
Feel old yet?
If not, watch the highlights of the Cowboys' Monday night loss to the Titans. Watch Prescott flutter a red-zone interception into double coverage or endure multiple sacks by loitering in the pocket forever. Recall Prescott's defensive-sounding October "I know I'm a better player" comments or Jerry Jones extending votes of confidence for both Prescott and coach Jason Garrett in the wake of an offensive slump that has lasted almost exactly a calendar year.
The Prescott-Wentz rivalry, if not dead, is in critical condition these days. Wentz has a Super Bowl ring, though he needed a three-inning save from relief ace Nick Foles to earn it. Prescott is a one-hit wonder from two years ago, one flop away from the discount rack.
The trouble started this time last year, when Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended and All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith missed a few weeks with an injury. The Cowboys got outscored 92-22 in three blowout losses, one of them to Wentz and the Eagles. A helpless Prescott threw zero touchdowns and five interceptions in that span, with a would-be franchise quarterback transformed into a more mobile Nathan Peterman once his running game and pass protection were downgraded.
Prescott's performance stabilized somewhat after Smith and Elliott returned, but in the offseason, the Cowboys lost Witten to retirement and Dez Bryant to cap issues/melodrama/declining play and replaced them with rookies, projects and wishful thinking. Prescott was marooned in a weaponless, unimaginative offense.
Prescott hasn’t cratered like Blake Bortles. He still produces a good game here and there when everything is going the Cowboys' way. But he has slowly receded from relevance, from a guy who should be starring in commercials and leading Super Bowl runs to one instead throwing screen passes on 3rd-and-15 in dreary losses.
Wentz, meanwhile, went on an MVP-caliber tear, tore an ACL, rode in a Super Bowl parade, rehabbed through the first two games of the season and is still shaking off the rust while the Eagles try to sweat out a Super Bowl hangover.
Wentz's career has been speed-plotted, six or seven years' worth of events crammed into two-and-a-half. And with a few game-killing turnovers on his portfolio and Patrick Mahomes claiming the MVP sizzle Wentz took from Prescott, last year is already starting to feel like a long time ago in Philly.
But let's not reach for some false equivalence. Few would argue that Wentz and Prescott are in the same weight class anymore, unless loopy arguments define their brand. The Eagles are set at quarterback. The Cowboys are preparing to settle at quarterback.
"Listen, Dak is the quarterback of the Cowboys," Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan. "He's young, and he's getting extended."
Poking fun at Jones' declarations and decisions is always fun—"he's young" may be the only quarterback compliment more weak than "he's tall"—but Jones has the right idea here. There won't be any better options than Prescott on the draft board for the Cowboys, who just spent their first-round pick on Amari Cooper, a weapon for Prescott. Free agency will only be an opportunity to overpay for someone like Foles.
The best bet for the future of the Cowboys will be to try to sign Prescott long-term and hope the decision doesn't look like Oakland's Derek Carr deal almost immediately.
That's right: It's already time to worry about overpaying Prescott, just two years after he rose from mid-round obscurity and the third string to replace Tony Romo—a fine quarterback but a walking budget deficit—simultaneously solving both the Cowboys’ quarterback and financial problems.
Prescott was too good to be true as a rookie. But we wanted to believe the backstory, so we ignored that he benefited from armored-car protection and a running game that turned every play-action toss over the linebackers into backyard pitch-'n'-catch. We were unprepared for what would happen when fissures opened in the offensive line and Prescott faced tougher situations. Prescott and the Cowboys were unprepared too.
Quarterback takes from two years ago make us feel old because they sound so naive. We only saw Prescott and Wentz in a handful of games before we began drawing comparisons and framing the rivalry. We filled in the blanks with storytelling: the kid from Fargo, the kid who overtook Romo, America's Team, the City of Brotherly Boos.
Now that we've seen more, Wentz vs. Prescott is a battle of the sometimes exceptional and the mostly acceptable, with the Eagles and Cowboys trying to claw out of a quicksand division for the right to be a tackling dummy for the Rams or Saints. Not exactly the stuff of Roman numerals.
If our 2016 quarterback takes make us feel old now, imagine how today's impressions might look in 2019 or 2020.
Maybe Mahomes will have fallen to earth by then and Mitchell Trubisky will be the toast of the NFL. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold could be a red-hot divisional rivalry in two years, or we'll be wondering why we didn't talk more about Deshaun Watson. Maybe Nick Mullens is about to become the Prescott of 2016.
Perhaps the Cowboys will build around Prescott, and he'll grow into a pesky, underappreciated Alex Smith type. Perhaps Wentz gets a bloated contract that hamstrings the Eagles and becomes one more guy for Philly fans to turn on.
It all sounds as crazy now as this future would have sounded in 2016.
Prescott vs. Wentz may not be much of a rivalry anymore, but Cowboys vs. Eagles is eternal. And with both quarterbacks unlikely to be going anywhere for a long time and a new plot twist every few weeks, there are still plenty of stories left to tell.