With ESPN already starting the process of potentially another major shakeup on “Monday Night Football,” CBS’ Tony Romo is now even better positioned to eclipse John Madden’s game analyst record of $8 million per year in the free-agent market.
And he may blow that number away.
With or without Romo, there will be offseason uncertainty in regards to the Monday Night booth of Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland.
Sources have told The Post that long time “Monday Night Football” producer Jay Rothman will not return next year. The decision to move on from Rothman was made prior to the season. ESPN gave Rothman a new contract at the time. His next role has yet to be announced.
A new producer generally likes to have his or her own people in place.
ESPN higher-ups, according to sources, hold CBS’ lead NFL game producer Jim Rikhoff in high regard. Ryckoff, not coincidentally, works weekly with Romo. Ryckoff, though, is under contract with CBS so that idea is apparently dead. Traditionally, ESPN looks from within to promote and may turn to its college football crew for its next MNF producer.
While ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” ratings were up this season, the telecast still lacks the same big-time feel of the other top broadcast booths.
Tessitore’s hype-filled style is best suited on college football and boxing, while McFarland’s first game as a lone analyst in a booth was this year on “Monday Night Football,” which might be the most scrutinized broadcast in sports.
During Saturday’s wild-card game, McFarland did not help himself when he advised the driving Bills, to run a draw on third-and-10 and then spike it.
While the fifth down option was novel, the issue is more with ESPN executives deciding to give him on-the-job training on such a huge stage. With more than 25 million viewers for the playoff game, it is best to have a lot of reps. Romo, who came out with a broadcasting bang in 2017, has been an exception to this principle.
Like Jason Witten last year, if McFarland were doing the third or fourth game on Sundays, McFarland would have the necessary room for growth.
If McFarland were taken off Monday Night, he would be expected to still have a big role with the network.
Meanwhile, ESPN/ABC hope to add a Super Bowl in the upcoming round of new NFL TV deals, and having Romo as its lead analyst is viewed as helpful. The money ESPN might offer could get crazy, with six years and $10 million-plus seemingly possible.
CBS remains the favorite to retain Romo, but it has barely any leverage and will be forced to pay a number its executives found unimaginable a year ago. Romo is making a little more than $3 million this year in the final season of what is essentially his rookie broadcast deal.
Romo’s real love, though, is golf more than broadcasting. If Romo stays with CBS, it may have to contractually allow for Romo to potentially miss some regular-season Sundays as he tries to qualify for PGA tournaments on Thursdays and Fridays.
With ESPN’s games on Mondays, it would be less complicated for it to accommodate Romo’s golf desires.
Romo’s final destination will likely not be fully decided until late spring, as he signed his original contract on the weekend of the Masters. CBS has the right to match any offer, but Romo will certainly test the market.
Though unlikely at this point, other networks, like Fox or NBC, cannot be entirely ruled out.
If CBS retains Romo and ESPN still moves on from McFarland, it could try its annual Captain Ahab run at Peyton Manning, go for current Panthers tight end Greg Olsen or choose from its long line of college analysts, including up-and-comer Dan Orlovsky.
If Drew Brees, Philip Rivers or Larry Fitzgerald were to retire, they would likely be considered. Though big names, there is no guarantee they would want to do it nor be good at broadcasting. ESPN could look to poach someone, like Kurt Warner, from another network.
The idea of moving Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit over from college has been discussed before. If the move was ever made, Fowler and Herbstreit would likely lose their shine as they are associated with the college game and Monday Night is a tough spot.
Though ratings are up, the Monday Night crew is often hurt by bad games when compared to the other network’s lead teams, which receive its top matchups and present it to a large, but regionalized audience.
If ESPN were to replace Tessitore, the obvious top outside choices would be CBS’ Ian Eagle and Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt, though contracts could be an issue.
Internally, Steve Levy, Adam Amin, Dave Pasch, Jason Benetti and Bob Wischusen would be among the candidates from the college game.
ESPN, though, could be creative and look outside of its current football roster with either Dan Shulman or Mike Breen. Shulman, a big Packers fan, is probably ESPN’s most skilled play-by-player and likely could adapt to the NFL, despite never having not done it.
Meanwhile, Breen, the voice of the NBA Finals, used to do the NFL for NBC in the ‘90s and is willing to put his partners’ personalities first.
How MNF shakes out is going to be a huge sports media story over the next few months. There is already some movement. At the moment, there is only one thing still certain — Romo is going to be richer.
Don’t get it: If you are Entercom, why have Mike Francesa on Radio.com from 5-6 p.m. opposite its new WFAN afternoon team of Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts?
For the Francesa-Radio.com combo to reasonably work, it would need to drive his former FAN listeners to the app. But they are the ones that, in theory, FAN would want to stick around for Joe & Evan. So it would seem it is cannibalizing its audience.
It gets better, though, as Francesa is now on after Joe & Evan from 6-6:30 p.m. on WFAN. So again, in theory, he could promote his Radio.com show, but by putting both of his shows on so late in the day, it doesn’t have much of digital shelf life.
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