Trent Dilfer’s official return to ESPN after widespread reports he was on his way out presents an interesting glimpse inside the news media, and specifically, how it’s possible for reports to be accurate at the time even if their presented potential end outcome doesn’t come to pass. This doesn’t appear to simply be a case of, as Dilfer told The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler, “A lot of stuff gets said that isn’t true.” Ryan Glasspiegel reports at The Big Lead that his sources tell a very different story, one that suggests the initial reports of Dilfer wanting out at ESPN were accurate, but didn’t come to pass thanks to Dilfer not getting the offer he wanted from Fox:
Shortly before those initial public reports, we had already heard from sources with knowledge of the negotiations that Dilfer went to ESPN with what were perceived as outsized contract demands during a time of public budgetary constraints. When they responded that he would have to assume the additional responsibilities (that he’s ultimately now taken on), he stewed.
One person with knowledge at ESPN relayed that, at this point, Dilfer berated Seth Markman, the senior coordinating producer who oversees much of Bristol’s NFL coverage, and that this was seen as a point of no return in negotiations. Multiple other ESPN sources confirmed that there was an “uncomfortable” conversation between Dilfer and Markman, but they disagreed on the semantics of characterizing it as a tirade or berating. Whatever the case may be, all was not hunky dory when [Bob] Raissmann and [Richard] Deitsch reported what they did.
In the interim, Dilfer had talks with Fox that failed to materialize, and now he returns to ESPN for extra work and what we have heard is substantially less pay than he was receiving in his last deal.
It’s worth noting how limited those initial reports were. Raissmann’s April 30 piece in The New York Daily News said only that Dilfer was “likely headed out the door” and that “money is the issue,” and Deitsch’s May 1 piece at SI.com said only “I’ve been told by reliable ESPN sources that Dilfer still remains at ESPN but the direction, as the Daily News reported, will likely head elsewhere.” Neither of those is an absolute statement he was leaving, just that it was likely at the time, and Glasspiegel’s piece suggests there was a lot to back that up. Dilfer may be presenting this as “stuff gets said that isn’t true,” but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
It’s also interesting that Dilfer reportedly tried to go to Fox and didn’t have that pan out, as that would explain why he’s suddenly willing to do more in Bristol. We don’t often see reversals like that, especially in apparently-acrimonious negotiations, but if no one else was willing to make him the kind of offer he wanted, that would explain why he would stick with ESPN. It could lead to a bit of an odd working relationship, though, perhaps particularly with Markman if that part of the report is true. We’ll see how things go for Dilfer and ESPN this fall.