Stephen A. Smith Dallas Cowboys First Take Screen grab: First Take

What will it take to keep Stephen A. Smith at ESPN? Whenever the NBA finally decides upon their new rights deals, it’s the contract negotiations that will have the most eyeballs on them.

Smith has always been very open about wanting to cash in and be the highest paid personality at the network. But there are plenty of other options available, whether that’s continuing to build his own media empire or even pursuing something like politics.

While Smith is a nearly constant presence on ESPN airwaves, one place he hasn’t been seen much is on the network’s NFL coverage. And according to at least one report, Smith getting even more airtime to cover the NFL more directly could be a factor in any new deal.

Via Michael McCarthy at Front Office Sports:

Can Stephen A. Smith become the next Howard Cosell?

That question could move to the forefront in coming months as Smith negotiates the most closely watched contract extension in ESPN history. My sources tell me that giving Smith the green light for more direct NFL coverage could be a key negotiating point in his contract talks this year.

Preliminary discussions between Smith’s agent at WME and ESPN brass have begun, author Jim Miller said on the SI Media With Jimmy Traina podcast last week. ESPN has been known to throw in access to other sports as a goodie for performance. Back in 2016, for example, NFL insider Adam Schefter was allowed to cross over into NBA coverage.

While Smith may want to emulate Howard Cosell, there is a 0.5% chance that ESPN would mess with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the Monday Night Football booth when they paid both millions of dollars from move to Fox to ESPN so that they could have a top-line announcing pair for their NFL product. Shoehorning Stephen A. Smith into that would end up worse than the Dennis Miller and Tony Kornheiser experiments combined.

But there are other options, of course. While the ManningCast rules the altcast world, Smith could bring his “Stephen A’s World” altcasts from the NBA to games that the Mannings aren’t doing. The most likely scenario though would be some time on a retooled Monday Night Countdown where ESPN has already splashed the cash to bring in Jason Kelce. Making that show as star-studded as possible would seem to follow the network’s recent pattern all about building around its biggest personalities.

Let’s also not forget that an expanded NFL role is in the cards as part of Shannon Sharpe’s new ESPN contract. Is it totally out of the question to see First Take live from an NFL stadium on Monday mornings and then Sharpe and Smith are both part of the show at night?

Then again, one of the biggest criticisms of ESPN’s NBA coverage is that it is way too SAS-centric and the studio has been a disaster for years. Would ESPN risk that kind of criticism for their NFL coverage even if it would help secure Stephen A. Smith’s services? Smith doing his Cowboys trolling act on First Take is one thing, but there likely won’t be many NFL fans happy if it starts invading game broadcasts.

[Front Office Sports]