This year’s NFL broadcasting carousel started with Troy Aikman heading from Fox to ESPN, and that’s led to plenty of discussion on if Joe Buck might join him. But an interesting part of that has been Aikman’s hints that he wasn’t entirely happy with how his exit from Fox played out. And he went into the most detail he’s offered on that yet on Tuesday in an interview on Sportsradio 96.7 and 1310 The Ticket in Dallas. Here’s a transcription of the key part of that, from Greg Joyce of The New York Post:
“It is a strange set of circumstances that led me to where I am now and not be back at Fox. And I never would have envisioned that six months ago and so it is strange. When negotiations couldn’t reach, what I felt was fair value, I was able to negotiate an opt-out after six months which allowed me to be a free agent.”
“Then Fox never jumped into the game. They never made an offer. I didn’t have any conversations with Fox, until I got a call to congratulate me on my new deal. So that was a decision they made and it’s fine.”
As Joyce goes on to note, his Post colleague Andrew Marchand’s reporting illuminates the details here a bit more. As Marchand noted in his original Feb. 23 piece about Aikman potentially heading to ESPN, this started with Aikman agreeing to do Thursday Night Football for Fox in 2021, and agreeing to a four-year extension to do so, but working an opt-out into that. He then activated that opt-out when he got a better offer:
Before this past season, according to sources, Aikman used the leverage he had to make this new deal possible.
He had an out in his contract in which he could say he would not do “Thursday Night Football” this season. With that leverage, Fox agreed to give Aikman a four-year extension at $13.2 million per year, according to sources.
There was one final stipulation to the contract — Aikman could opt out after this season if he were to secure a bigger and better contract, according to sources.
For the past year, Aikman has flirted with leaving. He spoke openly about possibly going to Amazon.
In the end, ESPN, which has been trying to figure out its top booth for years, came in with the strongest offer yet.
As Marchand wrote more recently, Aikman’s deal at ESPN is in the range of $90 million over five years. That would be an average of $18 million a year, the same as Tony Romo is now reportedly making per year at CBS when you include perks (although Romo is on a 10-year contract signed last February). So the ESPN offer is certainly better money per year than the previous extension Aikman had signed with Fox, especially considering that that also came with him working Thursday night games in 2021. (It’s also notable that Aikman was able to work in that opt-out to that Fox extension, and that he did so after feeling Fox didn’t offer “what I felt was fair value.”)
It is interesting that Fox didn’t propose a final counteroffer here. And it’s understandable why Aikman isn’t thrilled about that, especially given his long history with the network. But there is some risk to putting out a full formal offer if you know the other party isn’t going to accept it; for example, Kenny Mayne specifically cited the 61 percent pay cut ESPN proposed for him, and that got a lot of attention. (There’s obviously a difference between a proposed pay cut and a proposed raise, but the point is that spelling out specific terms you know someone won’t take isn’t always great, and there’s at least a case for leaving it at “We can’t come close to what they’re offering.” Which seems to be the approach Fox took here.)
At any rate, it’s unfortunate that Aikman’s long relationship with Fox ended this particular way. But there’s maybe some overlap here to how sports free agency often works out; plenty of people wind up moving on from their original team for better deals. Aikman’s just the latest to do so. And we’ll see how things work out for him at ESPN.