Shannon Sharpe signed on with ESPN to be a First Take contributor, but he also might be Stephen A. Smith’s successor in waiting.
Last month, Michael McCarthy wrote an article for Front Office Sports speculating that Sharpe could eventually take over for Smith on First Take. Thursday night, Smith shared the article on social media about two weeks after it was written. And Friday morning, Sharpe did the same. Even without offering any additional insight or context, Smith and Sharpe sharing the article gave credence to the speculation.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) September 7, 2023
After parting ways with FS1 and Skip Bayless on Undisputed, Sharpe signed a deal with ESPN to join Smith on First Take every Monday and Tuesday during the NFL season. Even though Sharpe is now among a lengthy cast of rotating contributors that includes Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, JJ Redick, Marcus Spears and Ryan Clark, the Pro Football Hall of Famer is undisputedly the most seasoned debate artist on the show after spending the last seven years alongside Bayless.
But Smith didn’t share an article that portrayed Sharpe as his toughest opponent on First Take, he shared a headline that named Sharpe as his possible successor. For that to be true, Smith would have to be gearing up to exit the show.
Smith’s current $12 million per year deal ($8 million in regular salary, $4 million in a production contract) with ESPN is scheduled to run out in 2025. Smith probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the 55-year-old never shies away from having career goals that exceed what ESPN can offer.
But the job Smith really wants sits under the Disney umbrella and has a host who might be on a similar timeline. Earlier this year, during an interview with Sean Hannity, Smith bluntly admitted he “would love to be the heir apparent to Jimmy Kimmel.”
Smith’s late-night interest is not new. He filled in for Kimmel in 2021 and even launched his own late-night experiment, Quite Frankly on ESPN, which was canceled in 2007.
Last month, Kimmel said he was recently “very intent on retiring” until the Writers Guild of America shuttered Hollywood by going on strike in May. Since the strike forced his show to go on hiatus, the late-night personality claims to have realized he misses hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Maybe he’s not ready to call it quits just yet, but if he was recently “very intent on retiring,” it seems reasonable to assume the 55-year-old who has hosted ABC’s late-night show for more than two decades might get that urge again. In 2022, Kimmel signed a three-year extension with ABC, which happens to align well with Smith’s 2025 timeline. If Shannon Sharpe is at Disney to be the heir apparent on First Take, maybe Smith is only sticking around to be the same thing for Kimmel.