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A knockout in the Dak Prescott-Carson Wentz debate left Jerry Jones with an unexpected prize to claim

This offseason has told us a lot about the precarious position that passers cling to in the NFL.

Of all the things the sports world lost in the past year, I did not expect one of them to be the Dak Prescott vs. Carson Wentz debate. Figured we would have that one to kick around for about 15 years.

I suppose in a technical sense, it isn’t completely gone. Get your ticket orders ready for the 2022 season when the Indianapolis Colts come to AT&T Stadium. But the mere fact that Wentz is now a Colt (and Jared Goff a Lion, if you toss the other prominent 2016 draft class QB into the mix) and that Prescott has won this battle by a knockout tells us a lot about the precarious position that passers cling to in the modern game.

And it also should tell everyone that Prescott spending his career in Dallas is, by no means, guaranteed.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been given an unexpected prize to claim, and this one has nothing to do with natural gas. If he can merely get Prescott signed to a contract — a long-term deal is the hope but, for this exercise, even an awful one-year franchise tag will do — then the Cowboys open the season with the best quarterback in the East by a mile.

And that has not been true since the Troy Aikman days.

(Sidebar: While I argued that Tony Romo was frequently the better player than Eli Manning despite a clear distinction in playoff success for Eli, neither was a landslide pick over the other).

Consider that the competition now is the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, the Giants’ Daniel Jones and someone in Washington. Let’s call it Alex Smith for now.

Philadelphia has turned its offense over to Hurts, who made some delightful runs last year. He also went 1-3 with a 52% completion percentage that looks like something out of the ’60s. Call him a work in progress.

In New York, the ironically named Danny Dimes is 8-18 in 26 starts with 29 fumbles. That’s not a misprint. At this point, Daniel Jones should consider wearing those receiver gloves where the ball sticks to everything. It wouldn’t help his passing but he would be somewhat less of a turnover machine.

Washington’s Smith was the feel-good comeback story of 2020, but, the story had no staying power. Smith’s team won games and the division — almost solely because of its superior defense — but Smith had his lowest passer rating in 13 years (right behind Daniel Jones) and couldn’t overcome injuries to compete in the playoffs. He turns 37 in May. Perhaps Taylor Heinicke is the club’s quarterback this season.

Regardless, Prescott is head and shoulders above this group, so what can the Cowboys do with this advantage? That’s the real question. The other one is how long it will last.

It still seems to all logical thinkers that if the Cowboys had pursued the Prescott negotiations earlier and as aggressively as they did with Zeke Elliott during his holdout, or even if the club had failed in 2019 and instead simply gone along with the four-year contract Prescott’s agent sought a year ago, this team would be far better positioned to move forward.

That’s not absolving Prescott of all blame in these negotiations. No one is suggesting he should have given in to a full home team discount. But given the endorsement money he was already collecting without any real playoff success here, it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to guess where things might go in Dallas if he had Mahomes-like success and signed something along the lines of what Goff and Wentz, the players selected at the top of his draft class, received.

Remember that it was only a year ago it was very easy to make the argument that Wentz (when healthy) was the slightly better player. I made it many times. After Dak won their rookie season going away, Wentz had a better won-loss record in years 2-3-4, a better passer rating with a lesser supporting cast in years 2-3-4 and his team won a Super Bowl, even if his role on Super Sunday was as a cheerleader. The Eagles didn’t get NFC home-field advantage in 2017 to reach that Super Bowl without Wentz’s play.

And now look at the two. The Cowboys are desperate to give Prescott more than $30 million per year again while the Eagles are taking a dead cap hit of over $30 million just to be rid of Wentz.

Remarkable.

The point to remember is that Goff and Wentz guided their teams to Super Bowls in their first three seasons before falling out of favor. Prescott has established himself as the better quarterback after five years, but it comes with an uninspired 1-2 playoff record.

Drew Brees, who now sits atop all kinds of career passing lists, is about to retire having made one Super Bowl trip. Philip Rivers just retired after having only four losing records in 15 years but he never got a ring or played in a Super Bowl despite eight Pro Bowl trips.

There are a lot of directions these things can go for very good or even great quarterbacks. Winning does not rest solely on their shoulders. But it always helps if you are led by a good quarterback, and the Cowboys have a potentially monstrous NFC East edge in that department for 2021.

Now ... what do they do with it?

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