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Monday, May 27, 2024

Why Both Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason Are Out at CBS Sports

  • Matt Ryan is joining ‘The NFL Today,’ pushing out the two mainstays who are 68 and 63 years old, respectively.
  • Networks are obsessed with getting younger, and the real story could be about the emergent Nate Burleson.
Feb 9, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Former quarterback Matt Ryan arrives before the Legends NFL Party.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Only one year after joining CBS Sports, Matt Ryan has helped push out two legends on The NFL Today. But the longtime Falcons quarterback has a long way to go before he can come close to the sports media careers of Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason.

According to an announcement by CBS on Monday, the 38-year-old Ryan is joining the original NFL pregame show, along with returning cast members James Brown, Nate Burleson, Bill Cowher, and J.J. Watt. Out are the 68-year-old Simms and 63-year-old Esiason, who worked for CBS for 26 and 22 years, respectively.

Like him or not, Simms will go down as a CBS Ironman. Working with Jim Nantz and Greg Gumbel, he served as the network’s No. 1 game analyst for 19 seasons, calling six Super Bowls during a 15-year period between 2001 and ’16. (The Super Bowl XXI MVP for the Giants previously called two Super Bowls for NBC Sports.)

By the end of Simms’s game-calling run from 2012 to ’16, it was fashionable for critics to mock his performance on social media. When CBS boss Sean McManus brought in Tony Romo as his new No. 1 analyst in ’17, Simms was a good soldier, shifting over to NFL Today, forming a bantering partnership with Esiason and improving the pregame show. Now, ironically, it’s the turn of golden boy Romo to be the butt of criticism.

Simms posted a classy message on X on Monday, writing: “Great 26 [year] run with CBS Sports. Even though that part of my career is over I look forward to what is next …”

Dropping Esiason is another head-scratcher. From calling ABC’s Monday Night Football from 1998 to ’99, to calling 19 Super Bowls as a game analyst for Westwood One, few can match his résumé. Plus, the former Bengals and Jets quarterback, who joined CBS in 2002, retains his perch atop New York morning radio in the country’s biggest media market.

On his Boomer and Gio radio show Monday, Edison announced he’d signed a long-term extension with WFAN. He also revealed he was stepping away from The NFL Today after enjoying his “swan song” at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. “More their decision than maybe mine. … It’s been an unbelievable run for. I’m so grateful and privileged to have been there for 22 years,” said Esiason. 

Here’s why I hear both Simms and Esiason are out: First, most of the NFL’s broadcast partners are obsessed with getting “younger.” They like hiring 30-something analysts like Ryan, who are fresh off the field and experts in today’s pass-happy NFL. They’re also worried they can’t replace pro football’s aging viewership with younger, more diverse viewers. That’s why top-rated Fox NFL Sunday added 34-year-old Rob Gronkowski to its cast, why ESPN replaced 59-year-old Suzy Kolber and 62-year-old Steve Young on Monday Night Countdown with 41-year-old Marcus Spears and 44-year-old Emmy winner Ryan Clark, and why NBC’s Football Night in America added Maria Taylor and Devin McCourty, both 36, in recent years.

As first reported by Front Office Sports, that’s also the reason NFL partners such as ESPN, Fox, and Amazon were chasing retiring 36-year-old Eagles center Jason Kelce all over Las Vegas during Super Bowl week. Could Simms or Esiason join another NFL broadcast partner in a major on-air role, such as Amazon or ESPN? Never say never. But as one executive at an NFL TV partner told me Monday: “They’re the wrong age and demo.” 

Second, new boss David Berson is putting his stamp on CBS Sports. In April, Berson succeeded the retiring McManus as president and chief executive officer. When new CEOs come in, they install their own people and vision. It’s no different than a new manager coming into an MLB club. They don’t keep the old guy’s coaches. CBS added the 35-year-old Watt to the NFL Today cast last year—the warning shot that the clock was ticking on Simms and Esiason.

Third, the real story here may be Burleson. The air time from the departing Simms and Esiason will go mostly to the 42-year-old former Lions wide receiver, who has emerged as the biggest crossover sports/news/entertainment star since Michael Strahan, analyzing games on NFL Today, hosting the CBS Mornings national weekday show, and leading the kids-focused NFL on Nickelodeon coverage. If networks have a prototype for the NFL analyst of the future, he’s it. (Meanwhile, Burleson has renewed his contract to stay with CBS Mornings, according to Variety.)

So don’t cry for Simms and Esiason. They both had their sports media runs, which were far longer than the crash-and-burn careers of Jason Witten, Emmitt Smith, and Ray Lewis. With the proliferation of online NFL shows, podcasts, and documentaries, you’ll be hearing from them again. With their chemistry, I can see them teaming up for their own podcast. Or becoming another in the growing conga line of weekly Pat McAfee guests. 

But their departure does make me wonder how long Fox’s aging, but still potent, trio of Terry Bradshaw (75 years old), Jimmy Johnson (80), and Howie Long (64) will keep going. They’ve helped make Fox NFL Sunday the No. 1 pregame show for 30 years. When they go, the NFL pregame crown will really be up for grabs. Welcome to the latest episode of No Country for Old Men.

Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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