ESPN pays in excess of $2 billion per year for the NFL’s Monday Night Football package. In addition to the exclusive rights to those games, the network gets invaluable access to the league’s executives, coaches, and players for its daily and weekly programs.

As we look to 2020, ESPN has begun to focus on a new announcing team, recently moving on from play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst “Booger” McFarland. Tessitore, who is an excellent broadcaster, was not the right fit for Monday Night Football. He will work on college football games while remaining as the network’s lead boxing announcer. McFarland will segue nicely into a studio analyst role, which better fits his skill set.

Now, the two questions are; What does ESPN do to fill the key roles for its most high profile property? And, will those choices be placeholders for Al Michaels, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees, which appears to be ESPN’s dream team?

Before that “dream team” can be assembled, a duo or a threesome has to be put in place for this season. Steve Levy, a consummate pro, is the front runner to assume the play-by-play role until ESPN could offer Michaels a huge contract. The issue is, Michaels reportedly has two years remaining on his NBC deal. When it expires he would be 77 years old. Age is only a number and the greatest play-by-play man in TV sports history still has plenty left on his fastball.

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Sean McDonough is 98 percent of Michaels. He can do any sport in any medium. Although it didn’t work out during his two-year stint on MNF, I believe it was a bad fit with former analyst and current Raiders’ head coach John Gruden. In addition, McDonough is not afraid to criticize the NFL, something the league will not tolerate from its partners.

My choice to follow Tessitore is Kevin Burkhardt. Burkhardt currently serves as FOX’s second play-by-play man behind Joe Buck. He is a major talent and would serve perfectly in the highly coveted role with ESPN.

However, I’m sure FOX will look to keep Burkhardt on board with a lucrative, long term deal.

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ESPN was willing to pay up to $20 million per year for CBS’ lead analyst Tony Romo. Reports are that a similar offer was extended to Peyton Manning. Both turned down the lucrative deals.

Drew Brees is expected to slide into a top analyst role when he retires. With former Cowboys’ quarterbacks, Romo and Troy Aikman (FOX) firmly entrenched at their respective networks, the other top spot that could open up for Brees is at NBC where Cris Collinsworth is the lead analyst. If ESPN goes the standby route until Brees hangs up his cleats it has a bevy of potential analysts from within.

Monday Night Football – Booger McFarland and Joe Tessitore

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Louis Riddick, Dan Orlovsky, and Brian Griese are considered the logical choices to replace McFarland. My preference would be current NFL Network analyst and Pro Football Hall-Of-Famer Kurt Warner. Warner is extremely knowledgeable, concise in his analysis, and is a genuinely likable person.

Do the broadcasters impact ratings? Difficult to prove. A key role for high profile broadcasters is their willingness to work within the framework of the network. In addition to Monday Night duties, they will most likely have to fill roles on several of the platforms that the worldwide leader has.

Kevin Burkhardt and Kurt Warner sound like a winning duo to me.

John Sapochetti is Co-Host
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