While Tony Romo has signed a new deal with CBS, it seems the network wasn’t always confident he was coming back. ESPN reportedly was prepared to make Romo a giant offer of their own (and even if there was no formal offer extended because Romo signed a new deal with CBS first, he and his agents clearly were aware of the talk of ESPN’s interest), and Andrew Marchand of The New York Post wrote Monday that CBS reached out to Peyton Manning about Romo’s job during the negotiations.
With CBS’ apprehension so great about where Romo’s salary might be headed and with ESPN so eager to sign him, CBS called for an audible in the middle of negotiations.
Manning is NFL TV’s white whale, pursued by networks since he retired, but never caught. CBS looked to replace Romo with Manning as Jim Nantz’s Super Bowl partner.
In the midst of the Romo talks, CBS offered Manning a contract that is believed to be in the range of $10 million to $12 million a year for five or six seasons, according to sources.
Marchand also writes that this came after CBS briefly “flirted with Drew Brees” (before Brees decided to continue playing), and that they “went after Manning hard,” but Manning didn’t quickly decide. So they wound up offering Romo a bigger deal still (Marchand writes that it’s actually a salary of $17.5 million a year with perks taking it up to $18 million, and that it’s for 10 years) and getting him to sign on, blocking out ESPN.
It’s significant that yet another network has attempted to bring in Manning as a game analyst. ESPN made runs at him before in both 2018 and 2019, and Fox was reportedly also interested in him in 2018 (and also at a reported rate of around $10 million a year) but none of that seemed to go too far. Manning has no broadcast booth experience, but that didn’t stop Romo, although he initially came in at a much lower rate ($10 million over three years, so $3.33 million annually). And while there’s nothing to suggest that Manning will actually head to a broadcast booth this time around, and while he hasn’t seemed too high on that idea in the past, it’s certainly notable that people are still trying to get him in there.
It also seems like ESPN in particular may try again. Marchand adds that “The NFL would like ESPN to change its broadcast team from Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland” (the idea of a Monday Night Football change this offseason has seen plenty of discussion, but it’s certainly notable to have a report that the NFL wants a change there), and Manning would certainly be a splashy hire if they can get him. ESPN has worked with Manning on Peyton’s Places and the football version of Detail, so there’s some familiarity there.
Why offer so much money to analysts like Romo and Manning? Well, a large part of it seems to be about the conversation different broadcasts generate. Romo has received a lot of positive buzz both from fans and from media (apart from some curmudgeons), and he and Jim Nantz were the top-voted national booth in our reader poll this year, while Tessitore and McFarland were last. That’s also reflected in the dramatically different tone of the Twitter conversation during a top-booth CBS game and during MNF. And even if there isn’t much evidence broadcasters do much to alter the ratings (despite all the complaints about the booth, the MNF ratings went up this year), they certainly impact the conversation about those broadcasts.
The NFL is very concerned with who calls its games, much more so than other leagues. That’s why you get things like Mike Tirico initially being blocked from NBC’s Thursday Night Football broadcasts because he wasn’t on the network’s “#1 team” (a situation that was initially worked around through a loophole, fully remedied in 2017, and then became moot the next year when TNF went to Fox, where the NFL still insists on the #1 team). The NFL wants its nationally-televised games to feel like a big event, and they think that using perceived-as-top broadcasters helps there. (As long as those broadcasters don’t dare to say anything mildly critical of the league.)
With that in mind, offering a huge amount of money on a long-term deal to Romo or Manning isn’t just about keeping or signing them, but also about showing your network’s long-term commitment to the NFL. That is very important at the moment, given that the MNF deal expires after 2021 and the other network deals expire after 2022. A “framework” for the post-2022 negotiations is expected as soon as next year (and things could happen even earlier; there’s already been some talk about a few specifics, and if players do sign on to the proposed CBA, further TV talks could soon follow), so it’s an important time for ESPN, CBS and others to try to show off their commitment to the NFL, and throwing a large amount of money on a long-term deal at an analyst fans and the league like is seemingly one way to do that.
Of course, a move like this is maybe more risky with Manning than Romo. Romo is a known quantity in the broadcast booth at this point, Manning is not, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be good or liked as a game analyst. But going after Manning is certainly a splashy move. It’s certainly notable that CBS tried that (before eventually deciding to pay Romo big money instead) despite Manning’s past decisions to stay out of the booth, and it will be interesting to see if anyone else tries to lure Manning into the booth this offseason, and if he takes them up on that.