Jon Gruden

While ESPN analyst Jon Gruden’s name constantly pops up in reference to coaching jobs, most recently with the Los Angeles Rams, none of those rumors have come to fruition yet. Some of that might be from teams deciding to go a different way, but it seems like a good part of it is Gruden himself being happy with his job. There are good reasons for that, too; beyond the easier requirements, the extra time off and the greatly enhanced job security, Gruden might actually wind up making more money by avoiding a coaching return.

On first glance, that may seem off. The highest-paid NFL coaches (Sean Payton and Pete Carroll) are averaging $8 million a year according to this CoachesHotSeat.com list, with Bill Belichick third at $7.5 million annually and recently-fired Rams head coach Jeff Fisher tied for fourth at $7 million a year. If Gruden were to take the Rams’ job, he’d presumably want at least as much as Fisher got, and might get it.

Meanwhile, although Gruden was revealed to be ESPN’s highest-paid personality in September 2015 (with Jim Miller estimating his annual salary as around $6.5 million at that point, which was almost a year after he signed an extension through 2021), he’s still likely making less overall from ESPN each year than he would from a deal with the Rams. However, there are other elements to consider.

Let’s say Gruden leaves ESPN and signs a deal with the Rams. How long he gets that deal for is a big question, but it seems unlikely it will be for the full five years remaining on his ESPN contract. It’s extremely rare to see football coaches get deals that long. Four years or less is probably more likely (for reference, Chip Kelly signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the 49ers this offseason). So an assumption that would seem pretty favorable to Gruden is four years, $7 million a year, for $28 million overall.

If Gruden makes it to the end of that contract (or is fired but has the remainder guaranteed, not always the case; for example, Fisher’s most recent extension reportedly included team options that allowed the team to part ways with him without paying the whole remainder), he pulls in $28 million. If the Miller estimation of his ESPN salary is accurate, Gruden would only make $26 million from them over the same time period, a $2 million difference. However, the ESPN deal comes with a lot more security, and it already extends a year longer.

If Gruden did get axed by the Rams, he could of course get other work, but that work may not be as lucrative as what he’s doing right now. Being ESPN’s lead Monday Night Football analyst is one of the highest-profile and highest-paid positions in sports broadcasting, and if Gruden leaves it for the NFL, there’s no certainty he’d be able to get that job back after being fired in the NFL. For one thing, firings tend to tarnish reputations; Gruden’s analysis may not carry as much weight if viewers remember seeing poor recent coaching jobs from him. For another, ESPN likes long-term planning (which is why Gruden’s currently signed through 2021); if Gruden leaves; they’re not likely to fill that slot with just a temporary fix, but with someone that they believe can hold it for the long term.

Say Gruden does return to broadcasting after those four years, either with ESPN or with someone else, but doesn’t get the Monday Night Football slot back. It’s quite conceivable he could wind up making much less. In 2012, we discussed a Sports Business Journal report that pegged Bob Costas, Al Michaels, Joe Buck and Jim Nantz as the highest-paid broadcasters (in the range of $5 million annually each), with Chris Berman and Mike Tirico next at around $3 million annually each and top game analysts next.

If that report and Miller’s report last year are both accurate, Gruden got not just a hefty raise in his most recent contract (taking him from seventh at best to first), but one that puts him well beyond other game analysts; this Chron.com piece pegged top analysts like Cris Collinsworth and Troy Aikman as making “more than $1 million,” which is a long way from the $6.5 million Gruden’s reportedly getting now.

Have other analysts’ salaries increased since 2012? Probably, but probably not to the level of Gruden’s. (It’s worth noting that his salary is probably at least partly because he has leverage other analysts don’t thanks to the frequent talk of him returning to coaching, and that he also does other non-game things for ESPN, such as draft work, guest spots on other ESPN programming,  and Gruden’s QB Camp). It’s possible to conceive of a top NFL analyst at a non-ESPN network maybe being up to that $3 million range by now (although we really don’t know, as these numbers aren’t often reported).

However, even if we imagine Gruden returning to a $3 million annually broadcasting gig after four years coaching the Rams for $7 million per, that gives him a five-year total of $31 million. If he stays in the Monday Night Football contract he’s currently on and makes $6.5 million a year, he’d make $32.5 million over that same span and be further ahead.

Maybe $7 million per year is too low, and the Rams are willing to pay Gruden with the league’s absolute top coaches and give him $8 million a year. In that case, he’d make $32 million over four years. Add $3 million in broadcasting for the fifth and you get $35 million. That’s a slight win for the coaching path, but not by much, and staying in the $6.5 million broadcasting job more than catches up the next year (presuming an extension, which we’ll discuss further below).

That presumes that there would be a $3 million a year gig available, too. If only the top game analysts were making over a million in 2012, it seems likely that they’re the only ones who could even approach $3 million now, and most of them seem unlikely to be going anywhere. Gruden is 53; Fox’s Troy Aikman is younger (50), while NBC’s Cris Collinsworth (57) and CBS’ Phil Simms (62) are older, but not exactly a sure thing to retire just yet. Maybe Simms’ job is open in four years, but maybe not, and it’s hard to see either of the other two moving on that soon. There would be plenty of competition for any open top job, too. It isn’t hard to see Gruden coming back to broadcasting if coaching doesn’t work out, and there would be broadcast jobs he could get, but he wouldn’t necessarily land a top one.

What if Gruden stays in coaching? Well, that depends on how badly things go with the Rams at the end, but presuming he can’t get another head job, there’s going to be a pay cut. The highest coordinator salary in 2011 was about $3 million (Jason Garrett before he got the Cowboys’ head job), with many well below that. Maybe Gruden could get $3 million as an assistant, especially considering that those salaries may rise by 2021, but it seems unlikely he’d get a ton more, and he might get a lot less.

The future beyond the next five years matters too. Yes, ESPN doesn’t have Monday Night Football rights beyond 2021 at this point, and the TV landscape could be drastically different by the time that contract ends, but there’s at least a good chance they’ll be able to retain the rights beyond then. If they do, and if Gruden stays with them through 2021 and keeps Bristol executives as happy with him as they currently seem, it seems highly likely he’d get a new contract as well (and perhaps for even more money). He’ll only be 58 at that point, and he could be a top announcing commodity for at least five years beyond then, possibly even more. If he can keep making $6.5 million a year or more beyond 2021 by staying in his current job, that looks pretty great.

Something else to consider is endorsements. ispot.tv lists 13 commercials Gruden has done, for everything from Hooters (six) to GoPro, Corona and Nationwide (two each) to The Dark Knight Rises. Sure, an active NFL coach could probably theoretically do national commercials too, but you don’t see that much, for a few reasons; for one, they’re incredibly busy, for two, they want to look incredibly busy (you don’t want fans wondering why the coach is selling them products instead of studying film), and for three, ties to a particular team may hurt that coach’s status as a national pitchman. ESPN analyst Jon Gruden probably can do more commercials and make more money from them than L.A. Rams head coach Jon Gruden.

The money difference isn’t purely a function of Gruden’s current job, either, as it’s also about his legacy. Mike Florio made an interesting point on that front in a discussion with Dan Patrick Friday, saying that part of the reason Gruden may not have returned to coaching yet is that it could potentially damage his legacy. At the moment, he’s seen as a guy who found pretty good success as a coach, and as a reasonably-respected and definitely high-profile analyst. If he stays in an analyst role, he can keep that reputation for the rest of his working days and beyond, and that can lead to plenty of lucrative financial benefits (books, commercials, more). If his return to coaching didn’t go well, though, Gruden would become a less-attractive property.

Of course, there’s also the chance that a Gruden return to coaching could go spectacularly well and could make him much more money. If he signs with the Rams and wins a Super Bowl with them, he should have good coaching offers for as long as he wants to keep coaching. Making a move back into coaching would be a big bet on himself, though, and while it could have some short-term financial rewards, it might not be as beneficial in the long run if things don’t go well.

That’s worth keeping in mind when we see comments like the ones Gruden made on Mike and Mike this week, where he said “I’m very happy doing what I’m doing” and “Right now I have no intention of coaching.” Maybe that’s a smokescreen, given that there’s still a Monday Night Football game for him to call, but maybe it’s the truth. There certainly might be some good reasons for him to stay right where he is, both financially and otherwise.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.