You want to feel really old? It’s been almost 20 years since Keyshawn Johnson was made the #1 overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft by the New York Jets out of USC. And while it may not make you feel quite as old, it’s almost improbable to think that Johnson has spent almost a decade as an NFL analyst at ESPN.
However, that time is coming to an end. Johnson, who has been a mainstay on ESPN’s flagship NFL pregame show Sunday NFL Countdown, will not be having his contract renewed by Bristol and will be departing the network at the end of the season.
Via Richard Deitsch at Sports Illustrated:
SI.com has learned that Keyshawn Johnson will not be returning to ESPN following the conclusion of his contract, which ends at the end of this NFL season. Johnson joined ESPN in 2007 as an NFL studio analyst on the same day he announced his retirement from the National Football League. He had appeared on various ESPN and ESPN Radio programs over the years including ESPN’s highest profile NFL studio show. The network opted not to renew his contract.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind with a talent move like this in contemporary times at ESPN is the budget crunch Bristol is facing. While Johnson’s salary is microscopic compared to the billions in rights fees, every little bit of relief helps. And when the network employs something like 348 other NFL analysts, perhaps Johnson is now surplus to requirements.
Furthermore, it could be just the beginning of more changes to the show:
Johnson leaving Countdown could be the first of a series of moves for the show over the next 24 months. The contracts of Chris Berman and analyst Mike Ditka are believed to expire after the 2016 NFL season.
It’d be the shock of the century to see ESPN force Berman to ride off into the sunset, but it’s conceivable that Ditka may not return either as ESPN seeks to infuse some new blood into its NFL coverage. Again, with so many analysts waiting in the wings, ESPN can really promote from within from the likes of Ryan Clark, Darren Woodson, Tim Hasselbeck, and many others. And ESPN’s loss could be another network’s gain as one would have to imagine Keyshawn, who’s only 43 years old, would be a coveted free agent with the other NFL rightsholders looking to add him to their stables.