ESPN wants Peyton Manning and is open to making wholesale changes in the Monday Night Football booth according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post.
After losing high profile color analyst Jon Gruden to the Oakland Raiders, the network is seeking star power in the analyst role. Peyton Manning would provide that and more which is why he’s said to be the network’s preferred choice. FOX Sports has also expressed an interest in Manning, but he has yet to commit to making a move into the booth. Insiders say the former quarterback would like to gain an ownership stake in a team, and run a franchise’s football operations like John Elway has with the Denver Broncos.
Although Manning hasn’t shown a burning desire to move into sports television, that isn’t stopping ESPN from making an aggressive play to try and change his mind. The network is said to be willing to make a huge investment to make a splash in the Monday Night booth as it attempts to replace Gruden, the network’s previously highest-paid employee at over $6.5 million per year.
The other situation that ESPN has to resolve is who will call the action going forward. Sean McDonough has spent the past two seasons calling Monday Night Football games, but sources say network executives felt he lacked chemistry with Gruden, and his remarks about NFL officiating have not been well received.
Should ESPN elect to change play by play announcers, three internal options are considered high atop the list – Joe Tessitore, Steve Levy and Dave Pasch. Bob Wischusen is another internal candidate who could receive consideration. External options include CBS’ Ian Eagle and Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt, although both men recently signed new deals with their respective networks.
If Manning chooses to stay away from the bright lights of Monday Night, ESPN will consider holding auditions for internal candidates. Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss and Charles Woodson are all expected to receive a look under that scenario, although none reportedly have the inside track on landing the position. The one external option listed in Marchand’s report is Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner who works for the NFL Network and Westwood One.
One interesting issue could be whether Manning views FOX’s new Thursday Night package more favorable than ESPN’s Monday Night deal. Although both games air on weeknights, the Monday Night game would likely require Manning’s time on weekends for preparation. That said, Monday Night is still considered the bigger attraction than Thursday Night.