Tony Romo could have the shortest reign ever as the highest-paid sports TV analyst in history.
ESPN is preparing to offer Peyton Manning a record $18 million to $20 million a year to serve as lead analyst for “Monday Night Football,” sources tell Front Office Sports.
If so, that would eclipse Romo’s new multi-year contract from CBS Sports that will pay him $17 million annually.
The 43-year old Manning met with ESPN executives over the last few days, sources said. The two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts has an existing business relationship with ESPN, hosting the 30-episode “Peyton’s Places” documentary series on ESPN+.
ESPN declined to comment.
ESPN pays the NFL $1.9 billion a year for the rights to air MNF – double the $950 million paid by NBC for the higher-rated “Sunday Night Football.”
Despite the hefty price tag, ESPN’s all-out pursuit of Manning could make business sense.
ESPN will be the first network to negotiate its TV deal with the league. The network’s MNF contract is up after the 2021 season. NBC’s SNF deal runs through the 2022 season, as do CBS and Fox’s respective Sunday afternoon game packages.
The network’s MNF booth of Booger McFarland and Joe Tessitore was viewed by many as the weakest TV team last season, behind Romo and Jim Nantz at CBS, Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels at NBC and Troy Aikman and Joe Buck at Fox.
During his 17-year career, Manning won two Super Bowls and five MVP awards. He also remains one of the league’s most popular players, with a 79 percent favorability rating among fans, according to a Morning Consult poll.
Manning is viewed by many as a natural for the TV booth and a good fit to announce today’s pass-happy NFL. He has been featured in numerous national advertising campaigns for sponsors such as Nationwide Insurance and hosted “Saturday Night Live.”
Additionally, ESPN views Manning as the ticket to finally breaking into the Super Bowl TV rotation, sources said, while also becoming the face of ESPN’s TV coverage just in time for the next billion-dollar round of negotiations on TV contracts.
ESPN also narrowly missed on landing Romo. In fact, sources close to Romo believed he was heading to MNF before CBS changed its mind and shut out ESPN with a higher offer for the 39-year old Romo.
This will be the third time ESPN has pursued Peyton Manning for the MNF job. He’s turned it down twice before.
Up until now, said sources, Manning has been more interested in running or owning a team similar to John Elway of the Broncos or Derek Jeter of the Miami Marlins.
Manning pocketed career earnings of $252,280,004 during his on-field career, according to Spotrac.
Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys, the last NFL star to move straight into the MNF broadcast booth, lasting one year before returning to the field.
The perfectionist Manning might not want to be unfavorably compared to Romo, the most popular NFL TV analyst since John Madden, a source said.
“After beating him on the field, why would Peyton Manning want to be judged against Tony Romo on TV every week,” said one source.
If ESPN can’t land Manning, Kurt Warner of NFL Network could be Plan B, sources said. Internally at ESPN, Louis Riddick, Matt Hasselbeck, and Dan Orlovsky are seen as candidates to succeed McFarland if ESPN makes a change as expected in the broadcast booth. McFarland could easily slide back to covering college football.