When Tony Romo inked his monster contract with CBS that will make him the highest paid game analyst in sports, ESPN lost its top target for the Monday Night Football booth. ESPN was expected to make a huge offer to Romo, but CBS matched Romo’s initial demand and as such he stuck around at the Eye to work with Jim Nantz.
What that meant for the Worldwide Leader was they had to adjust course, one that now firmly places Peyton Manning at the top of their dream wish list for lead analyst. Manning has steadily denied offers to take a full-time TV role since retiring, but ESPN is once again hoping to make a run at the future Hall of Famer and reportedly plans to do so by targeting a legend of NFL broadcasting already under contract at NBC.
According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, ESPN wants to bring Al Michaels, who has two years left on his contract with NBC as the voice of Sunday Night Football, back to Monday nights and pair him with Manning. The hope is that the allure of working with a legend like Michaels would be enough to bring Manning back — and also help them in their upcoming negotiations with the league for expanded game rights.
The network believes a Michaels-Manning pairing would have the same sizzle as Michaels-Romo. Michaels, 75, is arguably the best NFL TV play-by-player ever, while Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.
Talks between NBC/Comcast and Disney/ESPN have yet to begin. Since Michaels has two years remaining on his contract, NBC could simply turn down ESPN’s request.
Now, there are obvious hurdles involved in making this happen. First, they have to convince NBC to let Michaels out of his deal, which Marchand notes NBC could simply deny — or Michaels could just not be interested. They do already have their replacement for Michaels in house with Mike Tirico signed on and expected to take over after the 2022 Super Bowl, but Michaels and Cris Collinsworth head the most watched football broadcast on TV.
On the other side, ESPN has to convince Manning to finally commit to a full-time role in the booth. They have partnered with Manning on an ESPN+ show, but that’s a very different commitment from the weekly analyst role and all that comes with it. According to Marchand, also on ESPN’s target list is Philip Rivers, who insists he still wants to play football. What’s clear is ESPN is going to swing for the fences on the MNF booth this offseason and it’d be stunning if Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland are still in the booth come this fall. What’s most fascinating is the ideas reported all have the potential to fall through, and what the “safety plan” is in Bristol may be interesting to see play out should they miss on Manning and Michaels (and Rivers).