Eli Manning just signed what could be the last big contract of his career with the New York Giants, two years after Dallas' Tony Romo did the same during the offseason.
If these rival quarterbacks in the NFC East stay healthy, they will likely oppose each other more than 20 times in the regular season. And they've developed a healthy respect along the way.
Their meeting in a season opener Sunday night was to be their 16th in the regular season. And it'll be 18 if you count Romo taking over as the starter in Dallas at halftime of a loss to the Giants in 2006 and a playoff pairing a year later that propelled Manning to the first of two Super Bowl titles and started the trend of Romo answering questions about whether he can win the big one.
"I think Tony and I have a good relationship," said Manning, who entered Sunday 11-11 as the starter against the Cowboys. "Like you said, been competing these last nine years and seeing him during games, after games, before games and talk. We've kind of talked on the phone, text messaged over the years. I haven't been around him outside football a whole lot, but I have great respect for him."
Romo didn't know the number, but remembered that Manning had a long streak of consecutive games. The 34-year-old Manning went into the season as the active NFL leader with 167 consecutive starts, 23 more than San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and New York Jets tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
"He's been just a fantastic pro," said Romo, who entered the game 9-6 as a starter against the Giants despite a five-game losing streak that culminated with a 2011 season finale with a playoff spot on the line. "I think one of the more impressive things is his toughness, just how many games he's played."
Manning signed a four-year, $84 million extension Friday that makes the two-time Super Bowl MVP the fourth highest-paid quarterback behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
Romo became Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' first $100 million player when he signed a six-year, $108 million extension in 2013. Both are likely to remain the starters through 2017 if their bodies hold up. The 20th regular-season meeting would be their first game that season.
The 35-year-old Romo was an undrafted free agent in 2003 and spent three full years on the bench before taking over for Drew Bledsoe and making his first start eight games into the 2006 season. Manning was the top pick in the draft in 2004, just like older brother and five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning six years before him.
"However either one of them went about their business," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, "they're both outstanding quarterbacks." And it appears they have a few years left as rivals.