On Wednesday, the New York Post was first to report that long-time NFL broadcaster and Dallas Cowboys legend Troy Aikman is likely to leave FOX to become the main analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast. The Post’s Andrew Marchand said Aikman is working on a deal with ESPN that will last five years and allegedly earn him somewhere around or above $17.5 million per year. Ironically, that number is being based on another Cowboys star, Tony Romo. That is what Romo makes per year at CBS.
According to the Post’s sources, the deal is not finalized yet, but is “near completion.” The Post asked ESPN to comment, but the network declined. This is a big deal for ESPN, a network that has been trying to find a Monday Night Football crew that works for many years. Currently, the cast is Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Reddick. But they are far from fan favorites. While Aikman is likely to exit FOX, who his play-by-play partner will be is still unknown. NBC’s legendary broadcaster Al Michael’s contract is expired, and while Amazon Prime Video is trying to get Michaels, ESPN may reach out to him as well.
Initially, Aikman spoke publically about the fact that he may be headed to Amazon to help with their new, exclusive Thursday Night Football rights. Now, it seems Michaels is closer to a deal with Amazon than Aikman is. But there’s no denying the two would be a legendary pair on any network. If Michaels leaves NBC, Mike Tirico will likely become the new leader of Sunday Night Football.
ESPN is trying to make big broadcaster moves as the network is expanding its NFL coverage. Over the next couple of years, ESPN will go from 18 to 25 NFL games, which will require them to have multiple broadcasting crews. Additionally, the supposed contract that Aikman is working on unironically runs through 2027. That “just so happens” to be the year of Super Bowl 61, a game that will be televised on ABC/ESPN.
If Troy Aikman leaves FOX, the Cowboys legend will leave the network with a huge void to fill. With Sean Payton as a potential replacement, could this affect Payton’s potential future as a Cowboys head coach?
Joe Buck and Aikman are an iconic duo in sports media. The two have been broadcasting games together for an incredible 19 years. So what on Earth will happen at FOX if the former Cowboy leaves and how did they let him go in the first place? According to the Post, Aikman used an out in his previous contract in which he could decline to do Thursday Night Football in order to gain a bigger contract from FOX before the 2021 season.
This leveraging resulted in a four-year, $13.2 million per year deal with FOX. But there was another loophole in that contract, too. Aikman would be allowed to opt-out of that four-year deal if he could get a bigger and better contract from another network, which seems to be exactly what he is doing now.
So, who will replace him? A top candidate is Sean Payton. The former Saints coach has repeatedly said he wants to focus on broadcasting. But if Payton signs a multi-year deal with FOX, what will that mean for the rumored potential that he may return to coaching to lead the Cowboys in the future? Is he really uninterested in coaching in the near future? Other potential replacement names include Greg Olson and Drew Brees.
And where does this leave Buck? You have to imagine the broadcaster is trying to make moves himself. Buck’s contract with FOX isn’t up until 2023. ESPN may try to pry Buck away as well, but that would get in the way of Buck’s MLB and World Series broadcasting that is also done on FOX. The Post says FOX would have to grant permission to Buck in order for him to leave before his contract is up.
All of this is obviously scary news for FOX. Losing their top talent is not ideal. But the timing seems to be the worst part. FOX is set to host two of the next three Super Bowls on its network. With Aikman potentially gone, where does this leave them for the biggest game of the year?