The year 2016 has represented some monumental sea changes at ESPN. The network has seen a number of high-profile on-air personalities depart for other television homes while also reshuffling some of their long-running announcing teams and studio programs. But for longtime ESPN viewers (and that means the wide majority of American sports fans) there could be a decent case made that no departures would hit closer to home than the duo of Chris Berman and Tom Jackson.
As we approach the eve of the 2016 NFL season, the futures of both men in Bristol now seem uncertain.
Earlier this year, Chris Berman was the subject of reports that his contract would not be renewed and this would potentially be his last year in his current hosting role. Questions still remain around whether Berman will in fact re-sign with ESPN, move into an emeritus role at the network, move somewhere else, or just retire.
Now Berman’s longtime partner on NFL Primetime, former Denver Broncos linebacker Tom Jackson, could also be leaving the network.
Over at the New York Daily News, Bob Raissman reports that Jackson could be on his way out at ESPN or moving to a more diminished role off of Sunday NFL Countdown.
“He’s still weighing his options,” an NFL TV source said. “This will be Tommy’s call. It’s up to him . Tommy’s driving the train on this one. The situation is fluid.”
The source said Jackson,65, has been contemplating his TV future for quite awhile.
Another industry said the odds of Jackson returning to ESPN are long.
“My guess is he is going to leave,” the source said.
The sources could not confirm if ESPN brass wanted to remove Jackson from his “Sunday Countdown Post” and asked him to move to another platform. Considering his stature at ESPN, and the respect and acclaim he has received, it stands to reason he could be given a role on another ESPN NFL show.
While ESPN has seen a number of changes at the network – from talkers like Cowherd/Whitlock/Bayless leaving to announcers like Mike Tirico or Brad Nessler to multi-platform stars like Bill Simmons – the most turnover has been seen among their NFL analysts.
Going out: Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter, Mike Ditka. Coming in: Randy Moss, Matt Hasselbeck, Charles Woodson. Additionally, after rumors that he would be leaving for a new home, Trent Dilfer was re-signed and given a new Countdown role.
For all that those analysts have given to ESPN, none has matched what Jackson has contributed. Jackson and Berman have been partners on-air at ESPN for almost three decades. They helped to define what a football highlight package could be thanks to their many years of work on NFL Primetime. Those of us in the under-40 crowd grew up with Jackson and Berman as the soundtrack for our football fandom. And while Berman may have gotten most of the attention over the years (both positive and negative) Jackson’s impact as an analyst and the job he’s done for almost 30 years can’t be overstated. One could even make the case that he’s one of the great sports analysts in the history of the medium given his skill, reach, and impact on the profession.
Eras have defined beginning and ending points. If there’s any one move that would signal ESPN officially moving to a new era, it would not be seeing Tom Jackson or Chris Berman on the network’s NFL coverage. That day could be coming much sooner than anyone may have imagined.
UPDATE: Mike Florio reports that a decision has been made and Jackson will be leaving ESPN.