In spite of losing two of their most well-known personalities within a couple days of each other, ESPN is battling back against the narrative that they are facing a “talent exodus.” That public relations work might become a little bit harder, though, if another big named talent decides to leave the network for greener pastures.
According to Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News, that person could very well end up being Trent Dilfer.
Raissman says Dilfer is “likely headed out the door” and that “money is the issue.”
This report is fascinating for a couple reasons – first, what kind of salary could Dilfer be demanding and does his value of himself have that big of a disconnect from ESPN’s value? It’s likely that Dilfer could get at least $2-3 million per year given that Jon Gruden makes a reported $6.5 million per year. Dilfer has grown into one of ESPN’s lead studio analysts for the NFL and also made a cameo as a game analyst for Monday Night Football in Week 1 last year. (Let’s not relive that.) ESPN has invested a lot in making him an authority figure covering the NFL, especially when it comes to QUARTERBACKS PLAYING IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Having said that, ESPN has a billion other NFL analysts that they could easily plug into Dilfer’s slots without much impact to the overall product. Does anybody remember Ron Jaworski? What about the newly signed Matt Hasselbeck or his brother Tim?
Second, could this be another sign of a more frugal ESPN? Perhaps. They were willing to pay millions to keep Skip Bayless, but not the $5.5 million per year that he is going to be receiving from Fox Sports. However, that might be too easy of a narrative that ignores reality. It’s not like ESPN is limiting themselves to the clearance racks or refusing to add new contracts to the books. As we just said, the network signed Matt Hasselbeck this offseason as well as Charles Woodson to add to their ranks. It’s ESPN. They have money.
It could be that this is more about the life cycle of the sports media. ESPN builds stars thanks to their massive advantages of reach and promotion. Their value then exceeds what ESPN is willing to pay and they become attractive options for other networks looking to increase their visibility and notoriety. Those other networks then get to basically cash in on ESPN’s investment while ESPN reloads and rebuilds from within. And on some occasions, those individuals feel as if the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and they return to ESPN.
The question here just might be which network is willing to outbid ESPN for Dilfer’s services. It’s hard to imagine NFL Network using those kind of resources on a studio analyst (unless Roger Goodell is willing to give up part of his salary). Could CBS, NBC, or Fox be willing to make that kind of play? Where would Dilfer best fit among the other networks that cover the NFL? If Dilfer does indeed move on from ESPN, those could be some very interesting questions for the NFL media this fall.