Well, it sounds like the two networks have their eye on the same guy.
Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that both ESPN and Fox are pursuing Peyton Manning as a potential primetime game analyst, with ESPN currently the front-runner. Manning has been a rumored candidate for broadcast openings since retiring from the NFL in 2015, but he might not find a better time to jump than right now, with two major networks looking to fill openings.
Before last season, Fox reached out to Manning to see if he would be interested in going into the studio or being a game analyst. As he has told all the networks annually, he did not want to become a broadcaster at that time. Fox will try again, but, at this point, it is ESPN that is being far more aggressive.
In the words of one source, ESPN is willing to “back up the truck” for Manning, wanting to make a splash in replacing Jon Gruden as the analyst on “Monday Night Football.” Gruden was reportedly the highest-paid ESPN employee, making more than $6.5 million before leaving for a 10-year, $100 million coaching deal with the Raiders.
Given his charisma and comfort on camera, Manning has always seemed like a potential star in the broadcast booth, but he hasn’t always seemed interested in an analyst role. Per Marchand, Manning hopes to ultimately fulfill a John Elway-type role with an NFL team, with an ownership stake and a role in football operations, but could use broadcasting as a stopover.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch last month, ESPN executive Stephanie Druley said ESPN planned to discuss its Monday Night Football opening with Manning.
Asked whether the network would reach out to Manning on the remote chance he was interested, Druley said that Manning is aware of ESPN’s interest but nothing beyond that at this time. “We like Peyton Manning,’ Druley said. “And we would be foolish not to talk to him.”
According to the Post, a new analyst might not be the only change to the Monday Night Football booth. Marchand reports that ESPN is weighing whether to pull play-by-play man Sean McDonough off MNF as part of a “total reboot” of the franchise, with Joe Tessitore, Steve Levy and Dave Pasch as in-house candidates for McDonough’s role and Ian Eagle and Kevin Burkhardt as potential outside candidates.
While lead play-by-player Sean McDonough is currently in place, ESPN executives have considered a total reboot of their Monday night booth, sources said. There was a feeling that McDonough lacked chemistry with Gruden, plus NFL officials have not been fans of some of McDonough’s critiques on officiating, among other topics.
“If you were going to do it, this is the time,” one source said of the “MNF” total-reboot idea.
If ESPN were going to make dramatic changes to Monday Night Football, it would surely like to have a big name and compelling character like Manning as a headliner. The big question seems to be whether Manning actually wants to take on the role.