After the seismic broadcasting move of Troy Aikman from Fox to ESPN, the next tremors are expected to reverberate from the NFL sidelines to some of sportscasting’s all-time biggest names.
From Sean McVay’s possible exit from coaching to a potential musical chairs of play-by-players, involving legendary announcers Al Michaels and Joe Buck, NFL TV free agency could become even more chaotic.
Following Aikman’s five-year deal in the $90 million-and-change range with ESPN, McVay, a 36-year-old coach with a fresh Super Bowl trophy in his case, soon could be faced with a very tantalizing decision.
Amazon has been trying to close a deal with Michaels to make him his lead play-by-player when he starts his exclusive broadcasting of “Thursday Night Football” next fall, but it has been stuck at the 1-yard line, as Michaels has waited to see whom Amazon would bring in as his partner.
After Cris Collinsworth agreed to a $12.5 million a year deal to team with Mike Tirico on NBC’s next iteration of “Sunday Night Football,” Collinsworth was crossed off for Thursdays with Michaels.
Amazon held talks with current 49ers GM and ex-TV analyst John Lynch, according to sources, but it did not lead to a deal.
Amazon was in striking distance to sign Aikman in recent weeks but was unable to close, allowing ESPN to swoop in and steal Aikman by surpassing the average annual salary of Tony Romo and CBS’ 10-year, $180 million contract.
Though Michaels has been hesitant to break in a new analyst, he and McVay have a relationship, as they live near each other in Los Angeles and even go out to dinner on occasion. McVay has the star power that might finally entice Michaels to sign up with Amazon.
However , McVay, who reportedly made $8.5 million as the Rams coach, may choose to stay on the sidelines and surely could use interest from Amazon or Fox as leverage. His words and the Rams’ deeds likely make him destined to leave coaching in the next few years.
He has said he doesn’t want to be an NFL lifer, wants to be around for his family, while the win-now Rams mortgaged their future for their title.
McVay clearly will be able to get a TV job anytime he walks away from coaching, but these networks are basically only paying its top game analysts these eight-figure-per-year deals.
If McVay waits, the No. 1 game analyst chairs at ESPN, CBS, Fox and Amazon may all be filled. There will always be seven-figures out there for him, but this might be the right time if he truly desires $15 million plus and weekends off.
Meanwhile, Buck is atop ESPN’s list to pair with Aikman, according to sources. The two had been a team at Fox for more than two decades.
Buck has one more year on his Fox contract and he does not want to lose him, especially with two Super Bowls in the next three years. Money talks, though, and although Fox pays Buck plenty — $11 million a year to be its top NFL and MLB play-by-player — ESPN could try to blow Fox out of the water.
Though Fox does not have to grant permission to Buck to speak with ESPN, Fox may choose to because he would be a lame-duck announcer, which could cause an untenable situation in a Super Bowl year.
ESPN is expected to first see if it can land Buck. If not, it is likely to turn its attention to Michaels, according to sources. ESPN has known that Michaels wanted to work with Aikman and felt it needed to sign the right analyst to even really consider going after Michaels.
ESPN has done that. For Michaels, it would be a storybook return to his “Monday Night Football” roots.
On the other hand, Amazon already has signed up Michaels’ producer of choice, NBC’s Fred Gaudelli, which will allow Michaels to easily slide in there, if he has an analyst he likes.
After Aikman’s departure, Fox will try its hardest to keep Buck, but it does like its depth. On play-by-play, it has up-and-comers Kevin Burkhardt, Adam Amin and Joe Davis. It brought in Greg Olsen as his No. 2 game analyst last year with the idea that he could one day be a No. 1. That day could be upon us, though, it is not a done deal yet.
Fox will investigate McVay and surely can’t be ruled out there. It has already talked to Sean Payton about a studio job, according to sources. Both Fox and Amazon still like the potential of NBC’s Drew Brees, despite his poor playoff game. And Tom Brady will receive calls from Amazon and Fox.
Adding to its mix and matching possibilities, Fox has Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt as its No. 1 college team.
In all likelihood, Buck will have the choice to stay at Fox or go to ESPN. For fun, let’s say Buck join Aikman at ESPN.
Suddenly, Fox would have an opening at play-by-play, and Burkhardt, 47, is likely ready for the mantle. Fox, though, has two of the next three Super Bowls — and Michaels has already called 12 of them.