Peyton Manning ENGLEWOOD, CO – MARCH 07: Quarterback Peyton Manning reacts as he announces his retirement from the NFL at the UCHealth Training Center on March 7, 2016 in Englewood, Colorado. Manning, who played for both the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos in a career which spanned 18 years, is the NFL’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns (539), passing yards (71,940) and tied for regular season QB wins (186). Manning played his final game last month as the winning quarterback in Super Bowl 50 in which the Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers, earning Manning his second Super Bowl title. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)



Now we’re getting somewhere.

Manning would make a lot of sense at ESPN and the Worldwide Leader has already expressed interest in bringing him in. The issue would be what Manning wants to do if he goes into TV, and if ESPN is really willing to upset the apple cart to accommodate him.

Let’s weigh the options: If Manning wants to do studio work, there’s no way in the world he is doing anything other than pre-game and post-game coverage of Monday Night Football. Please don’t be naïve enough to think Manning will be a regular on NFL Live. Sure, maybe in three or four years, but there is zero reason for him to go to ESPN for anything but the top-flight jobs.

Keyshawn Johnson is out on Sunday NFL Countdown, but he’s being replaced by the recently retired Charles Woodson. It wouldn’t be like ESPN to change too many seats on their flagship NFL show at once, especially with unproven first-year talkers. In other words, they don’t want another Emmitt Smith situation ever again, no matter how big the name.


The sensible spot for Manning, then, would be on the Monday Night Football crew. Suzy Kolber hosts Monday Night Countdown from the site of the MNF game each week, joined by Ray Lewis, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer. While Dilfer knows the game and is a valuable asset to ESPN’s studio coverage, he isn’t Peyton Manning, and it would make sense for ESPN to give Manning the opportunity for a high-profile spot in their rotation, without needing to carry the load of an entire game.

That said, when Jon Gruden started at ESPN he was part of a three-man booth. Of course, that was a disaster, but Gruden has developed into the role of lead analyst over the last few years, and that same plan could give Manning the ability to pick his spots with in-game more than if he were the only analyst in the booth.

A three-man booth with Gruden, Manning and Mike Tirico would be must-watch every week, which could mean that if Manning wants to continue his career in football calling games, ESPN is a good fit for him.


2. NBC

Thinking through the options, NBC started to make more and more sense for Manning, and ended up higher and higher on the list. After a few years of over-inflated studio shows for Sunday Night Football, NBC has somewhat streamlined their offerings, focusing more on the team of Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison than all the bells and whistles they tried in previous years. Sure, whatever role Bob Costas has on site still doesn’t make a lot of sense and, wait, does Hines Ward still work at NBC? It’s like that role is just there sitting for Manning.

This recruitment process is going to tell people a lot about Dungy, if NBC is interested in bringing Manning on board. Manning would make sense as an addition to the NBC studio show alongside Dungy and Harrison or, perhaps, as a replacement for Harrison altogether. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have Manning on site with Costas each week, but of all the networks, even including Fox, NBC seems like the worst fit for Manning in the booth. Cris Collinsworth is exactly what NBC wants in the booth with Al Michaels, and adding Manning probably wouldn’t help the telecast at all. So if NBC is the option, it would almost certainly be for the studio.


1. CBS

…Unless Manning takes over the booth for the NFL’s new Thursday Night Football package!

Under the new deal with the NFL, CBS and NBC will share coverage of the Thursday night slate, with CBS producing the first half of the season—televising five games, with the others on NFL Network—and NBC taking the second half of the season—with the same five-game deal. So what if Manning did all of them?

Left: CBS Thursday Night Football play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and Analyst Phil Simms. Photo Cr.:  John P.Filo/CBS CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved
Left: CBS Thursday Night Football play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and Analyst Phil Simms. Photo Cr.: John P.Filo/CBS CBS ©2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

Sharing broadcasters happens more than some might think. The TNF deal with CBS had both Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling eight games exclusively for NFL Network, albeit produced by CBS.

In past years, guys like Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas did regular season college basketball games for ESPN and the NCAA Tournament for CBS. The Turner NBA crew is on CBS more than Turner properties during the current run of NCAA Tournament coverage because of their symbiotic TV deal. Some high profile tennis announcers have worked for multiple networks too.

This is the NFL, however, so it may be a little too high profile to put a first-time analyst on multiple networks. And yet, perhaps Thursday Night Football is the perfect spot for Manning, and CBS the ideal company to bring him in.

This is not breaking any news, but of all the major network game analysts, Simms is the most maligned, and rightfully so. CBS has been hitched to Simms in their lead booth for too long, and Manning is one of the (now) former players with enough cache to bump Simms out without it looking like a flat demotion. If Simms gets replaced by Dan Fouts a year after working the Super Bowl, that would look awful for CBS. But if Simms is replaced by Manning, well that’s absolutely understandable.
And yet, CBS doesn’t have to, at least not fully. Simms has had enough trouble sounding prepared for one game a week, giving him two all season exposed his weaknesses and wore on the audience. So what if Simms just focuses on the big Sunday afternoon games with Nantz, while Manning slides in and does the Thursday games?

nantzsimms2It makes a lot of sense, and it’s only for eight games, so if Manning is a disaster at calling games, it will only last for two months and CBS can retool and put him in the studio. If it turns out over the course of eight games Manning is the future of the industry, why not reshuffle the booth mid-season, keep Manning with Nantz on Sundays and move Simms to another crew—sorry for the trickle-down Trent Green or Rich Gannon—or put Simms in a cushy spot somewhere on the bloated pregame studio show where nobody will notice him.

Given the long-held CBS connection to the AFC—at least during much of Manning’s career—the fit seems to make the most sense, especially if Manning wants to call games.

If he just wants to sit in a studio and bloviate about the NFL, he could be a fit anywhere, but still—even with a revamped studio crew last year—CBS may be the best fit for him.

About Dan Levy

Dan Levy has written a lot of words in a lot of places, most recently as the National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. He was host of The Morning B/Reakaway on Sirius XM's Bleacher Report Radio for the past year, and previously worked at Sporting News and Rutgers University, with a concentration on sports, media and public relations.

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