ESPN is reportedly scheming up a big play to solve its Monday Night Football problem.
According to Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy, the network is ready to offer Tony Romo an annual salary between $10 million to $14 million. That would make him the highest-paid sportscaster in television history, far exceeding the current top salary for an NFL TV analyst.
Romo’s deal with CBS is set to expire after the current NFL season. He makes $4 million annually with the three-year deal he signed upon jumping to the broadcast booth following his retirement from pro football.
During his three seasons in the broadcast booth, Romo has become enormously popular with viewers with his excitable personality and fascinating insight. Especially impressive was his gift for correctly predicting plays before they happened based on formation and situation.
With Romo nearing TV free agency, speculation has buzzed over how his success could result in a huge raise. Viewers don’t typically tune into football telecasts for the announcers, but Romo’s analysis became nearly as compelling as the game he was announcing.
Realistically, however, there aren’t that many options available for Romo at other networks in high-profile roles. Troy Aikman is established as the top analyst at Fox, as is Cris Collinsworth in NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth. Monday Night Football may not be as prestigious a broadcast as it once was, but ABC and ESPN have often tried to pull in casual viewers with its announcers, prizing popularity and curiosity over football analysis. Romo making a highly publicized move to MNF would definitely draw the attention ESPN covets for its showcase NFL telecast.
ESPN has tried desperately to find an analyst for MNF that could attract the same acclaim as Romo. But hiring Romo’s former Dallas Cowboys teammate Jason Witten last season was a failed experiment, largely because Witten wasn’t as talented behind the mic. This season, Booger McFarland has been frequently ridiculed for the obvious observations and questionable strategy in his analysis. Awful Announcing readers voted McFarland and play-by-play partner Joe Tessitore as the worst of the 14 NFL broadcast teams for the 2019 season.
No, Booger McFarland, the Minneapolis Miracle did not go "against the Vikings." pic.twitter.com/QZNReMKYDt
— Andrew Bucholtz (@AndrewBucholtz) December 3, 2019
Those are the kinds of headlines that ESPN would surely prefer to avoid next season. An announcing team shouldn’t be the story during a game telecast, especially due to its unpopularity and poor commentary. But if the MNF crew is the story because of notable calls and strong analysis, that would be welcome attention.
ESPN’s reported contract offer for Romo could nearly double the top salary for a NFL TV analyst. According to McCarthy, Aikman is currently the highest-paid at his position with a $7.5 million annual salary. ESPN has paid big money for its MNF color commentator before, paying Jon Gruden $6 million a year. The gold standard for NFL broadcasters is John Madden, who earned $8 million annually.
Huge money isn’t the only enticement ESPN is considering to nab Romo from CBS. As the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand reports, ESPN executives have eyed CBS’ top NFL game producer, Jim Rikhoff, as a replacement for outgoing MNF producer Jay Rothman. Working with a familiar colleague would certainly make a move to ESPN more comfortable and Rikhoff’s familiarity with Romo would likely influence the choice for an ideal play-by-play man to pair with the analyst.
On the CBS telecasts, Jim Nantz has provided less play-by-play commentary to let Romo’s analysis shine. Some detractors have said that Romo talks too much, often interrupting Nantz and preventing him from setting the scene and providing basic details on a given play. But Nantz realized that Romo enjoys talking through his thought process as the play begins, often leading to the analysis prized for being so fun and insightful.
For me the chances of Romo going to Disney hinge on whether Disney snags an additional package for ABC. In any case I can't envision any scenario where they'd pair Romo with Tessitore. https://t.co/SXsjfYWNSC
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) January 13, 2020
It’s difficult to imagine Romo meshing so well with Tessitore, who has a more bombastic style that often attempts to amp up less than exciting moments. So if ESPN does get Romo, it seems likely that a new play-by-play man will also be part of the MNF package.
Would ESPN’s offer be too rich for CBS to match? The network has several other in-house candidates that could replace Romo on the No. 1 NFL broadcast team. But CBS also hired Romo in the first place, taking a big chance on a rookie broadcaster with no TV experience, a risk that paid off wonderfully. Anybody else paired with Nantz would probably look like a downgrade.
But could CBS be looking to make another daring attempt for a high-profile analyst?
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that a “non-ESPN network” has checked in with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees to see if he’s interested in retiring from the NFL and going to the broadcast booth. Such a report could be an indication from CBS that it’s willing to move on from Romo and has a replacement ready if he leaves. One important note from McCarthy’s report is that CBS has the right to match any offer made to Romo.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that ESPN’s potential offer was reported soon thereafter, showing CBS what will be necessary to keep Romo. Negotiating through the press is the sort of development that makes these rumors sizzle.