The Dak Prescott vs. Carson Wentz debate isn't much of a debate anymore

Written By Billy Heyen
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(Getty Images)

In simpler times, some NFL fans' biggest worries involved the question of, "Who's better: Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz?"

As you're definitely aware, 2020 is not "simpler times," and that extends to the Prescott vs. Wentz debate. The Cowboys' Prescott saw his season end with a gruesome ankle injury in Week 5. Wentz was just benched in Week 13 in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. At the time of their 2016 draft selections, Wentz looked to be the sure thing. By early this season, Prescott seemed more secure in a bright future. And now? Both could be gone from the NFC East sooner rather than later. 

Sports fans are quick to make comparisons, and Prescott vs. Wentz displays some of the foolishness in that desire to compare. Things change. Players grow and struggle and get injured. Front offices commit too early or too late or not at all. Maybe a comparison between two quarterbacks drafted in the same year to the same division once was logical. But comparing Prescott to Wentz doesn't make sense anymore, and it might never make sense again. 

MORE: Can the Eagles trade Carson Wentz?

Dak Prescott improved while Carson Wentz regressed

Early in his career, Prescott was branded with the phrase that no young quarterback aspires to: "Game manager." He had Ezekiel Elliott behind him and one of the league's best offensive lines in front of him. Handing the ball off and keeping the passing concepts simple made a whole lot of sense.

In Philadelphia, Wentz made waves by his second season. He threw 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, and he led the NFL in ESPN's QBR. That season was spoiled a bit by Wentz's injury and Nick Foles subsequently leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl title, but things were looking up. Wentz would return to a team that claimed the Lombardi Trophy without him.

In 2018 and 2019, though, Prescott's role grew. He increased his passing attempts in back-to-back years, and with it came three straight years of increased yards per pass attempt. He wasn't a game manager anymore. Dallas acquired Amari Cooper to provide a true No. 1 receiver to its growing franchise quarterback, and the CeeDee Lamb selection for 2020 only increased Prescott's passing weaponry.

Wentz wasn't quite the same after his 2017 knee injury. He ran less, resulting in a player who often was at his best while on the move instead staying in the pocket and taking more hits. Wentz limited mistakes and still did more good than bad in '18 and '19, but his trajectory wasn't the same.

Then in 2020, Prescott and Wentz reached their extremes. Before his injury, Prescott was on pace to shatter the NFL's single-season passing yardage record by more than 1,000 yards. Before his benching, Wentz had already set career-worsts for interceptions thrown and sacks taken. While Wentz was the only one who had been given a long-term contract, Prescott had obviously leapfrogged him as the better future investment. 

IYER: Dak Prescott's value to the Cowboys is only rising after injury

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NFC East competition might not last

With Wentz on a long-term contract and Prescott seeming like an inevitable extension candidate, the meat of the comparison centered around a decade-long NFC East battle for supremacy. That might not be the case any longer.

Wentz's contract comes with it a heft that'll be tough to move, but NFL teams make things happen when they really want to. If the Hurts era has truly come to Philadelphia, Wentz could be shipped out — with SN's Vinnie Iyer pointing to the Colts and Broncos as two destinations. 

Prescott had already been in contract headlines because Dallas wouldn't extend him, instead franchise tagging him and pushing off the oncoming decision to give him a monster contract or let him walk for huge money elsewhere. But then Prescott got seriously injured, putting into question if he'd be the same player upon his return. That could impact both the money Prescott can ask for and the deal Jerry Jones is willing to give him.

The trickiest part of both players leaving the NFC East even by the start of 2021 is moving Wentz's big money. Other than that, there are very plausible scenarios where an NFC East without Wentz and Prescott is the new norm. What's the use of comparing rather different quarterbacks if they don't even meet twice a year?

MORE: What should the Eagles do at QB in 2021?

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An injury and a benching could change everything

If the two points enough weren't enough, let's stick to the obvious: No one knows where this goes from here.

Prescott's injury, a compound fracture of his ankle, isn't impossible to come back from. Players like Alex Smith have come back from compound leg fractures. NBA player Gordon Hayward returned from a similar-looking injury to Prescott's. But at the most important position in the biggest U.S. professional league, such a serious injury introduces doubts that Dallas certainly didn't want to have.

Wentz's benching leaves his future totally up in the air. Whether he starts the remainder of 2020 or not, Doug Pederson crossed a bridge that at points had seemed uncrossable. Not only did the Eagles pick Hurts in the second round with Wentz still in town, but they used Hurts exclusively to try to come back in an important football game. If Pederson's seat keeps getting hotter, Wentz's job security won't get any better, either. 

Three years ago, two years ago, a year ago — at all of those points, it was easy to envision a future with Prescott-Wentz duals being the highlights of Sundays for years to come. It's not as easy to imagine that anymore. The real world has hit two young quarterback prodigies, both with injury and one with a demotion. Where either of them winds up is anyone's guess.

That's not to say that Prescott vs. Wentz will never be a comparison ever again. Prescott could return to health, earn an extension with the Cowboys and go back to a record-setting passing pace. Wentz could recover from his benching, hold off Hurts and turn the Eagles into contenders again. If both those things happened, Dallas and Philadelphia fans would surely bring the debate right back around.

The probability so many coins landing on heads just doesn't feel all that high anymore. There are too many variables, too many things that have to go right that probably won't. Instead, NFC East fans might be left wondering "What if?" — what if Wentz and Prescott never got hurt? What if the Eagles never drafted Hurts? What if Jones had just given Prescott the money he deserved?

If only it were that simple.

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