It seems like the new Thursday Night Football plan may be the same as the old one. When TNF first went to CBS and NBC in 2016, there was a rule that the networks must use their “top” broadcasting teams from Sunday, which led to Mike Tirico being bizarrely sidelined until NBC pulled a Sunday-Thursday swap late in the year.
After plenty of backlash, the NFL smartly changed that rule ahead of 2017 to focus on just “a high quality, engaging broadcast” for Thursdays, which paved the way for different booths there and allowed Fox to try and do something really different with their overtures to Peyton Manning this year. However, with Manning telling Fox “thanks, but no thanks,” it now sounds like the network’s backup plan may be bringing their top Sunday team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to Thursday night. Andrew Marchand of The New York Post has more on that:
Fox is hoping to put its No. 1 team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in its Thursday Night booth in the wake of Peyton Manning turning down the opportunity, sources told The Post.
The negotiation process is in the beginning stages as Buck and Aikman will be adding games on top of their Sunday duties. Sources said that the tandem wants to work together, and they have no desire to split up.
Buck and Aikman seem to be in a very strong negotiating position with the advertising upfronts at the end of May. Fox wants to have its broadcast team in place by then, because it has paid $3.3 billion for five years to have the Thursday night game and wants to make it a marquee event.
As Marchand notes, this would likely mean Buck and Aikman getting some weeks off from Sunday games. Buck already tends to miss three NFL Sunday games a year thanks to Fox’s World Series and league championship series coverage, and he might get some more time off with this. But Fox would likely be able to handle that just fine, most likely by sliding up everyone else (the No. 2 team of Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis in particular). And it’s interesting that Marchand adds Buck wasn’t available for Thursdays if this meant pairing with Manning, as that would have meant more time in rehearsals, difficult for Buck thanks to his other responsibilities at Fox and thanks to the twins he and wife Michelle Beisner are expecting this fall. If it winds up being Buck and Aikman, though, they’ll just be transferring the Sunday coverage they’ve been doing together for 17 years over to Thursdays.
The Buck and Aikman pairing on Thursdays could have some benefits for Fox. It gives Thursday a big-event feel, something both they and the NFL are keen to do, and it does so in a very low-risk manner; they don’t have to hire anyone else, or wonder how new announcers will fit together. However, it does have the drawback of not necessarily being as splashy as a new broadcasting team might be, in addition to Buck and Aikman rightfully wanting more money for more work, and some juggling on Sundays. Those Sunday afternoon NFL games are hugely-rated and very important to Fox as well, so whatever the final plan is here will have to find something that works for those broadcasts as well.
There are still some other names out there, of course. Fox has held tryouts for Joe Thomas, Carson Palmer and Jason Witten, with Kurt Warner and Greg Olson reportedly being considered as well. But none of that’s necessarily specifically for Thursday nights, and some like Thomas have received more buzz as a potential studio hire. Putting Buck and Aikman to Thursday seems to make a significant amount of sense. We’ll see if this one comes to pass, but there’s a lot to suggest it could happen, and Thursdays could go back to the old model of Sunday announcing teams.