Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

ESPN considering Al Michaels pursuit with Amazon closing in

By Andrew Marchand

ESPN is contemplating a pursuit of legendary play-by-player Al Michaels for “Monday Night Football,” The Post has learned. 

No final decision on whether to fully engage Michaels has been made, according to sources.

ESPN declined comment. 

The potential interest in returning Michaels, 77, to his TV football home — he was the longtime voice of MNF — comes as Michaels is deep into negotiations with Amazon Prime Video about becoming the main voice of its exclusive “Thursday Night Football” package that begins next fall, according to sources. 

While Michaels’ negotiations have progressed with Amazon, there are still questions on whom Michaels would partner with at the streaming platform. That is to say the official’s arms have not been raised to the sky yet.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” is on the verge of something of a renaissance as in its new 11-year deal, it will add six ABC games and two Super Bowls. Its schedule is expected to remain very strong, as it soon adds some late-season flex games. Its expansion in games will necessitate needing an extra broadcast team.

ESPN is satisfied with its current No. 1 crew of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick Jr. and was ecstatic over the reception of the Manningcast alternative broadcast this season. The network doesn’t feel like it is imperative to go after Michaels, but it remains intrigued.

Two years ago, ESPN wanted to sign CBS’ Tony Romo and then team him with Michaels, whom it hoped to trade for with NBC. None of it ended up happening as Romo re-upped with CBS for 10 years and $180 million, while Comcast/NBC simply said no to trade talks. 

Now, Michaels is a potential free agent after he calls the Super Bowl for NBC in less than three weeks. If he were to go with Amazon, he is expected to remain at NBC, but in a more limited role. 

Mike Tirico, who has served as a very highly paid understudy, is expected to move into the starring role on “Sunday Night Football” play-by-play beginning next season. He will be teamed with Cris Collinsworth, whom NBC has an agreement with to continue as the SNF game analyst. 

There are questions ESPN executives have considered when contemplating whether they should pursue Michaels. First and foremost is that MNF’s main booth has been a revolving door in recent years. At 77 — even still throwing 90+-mph on broadcasts — how long-term of an answer is Michaels? Second, who would ESPN team with Michaels?

Michaels is a bit choosy about his partners. With Collinsworth not expected to do double duty and NBC’s Drew Brees’ stock diminished, Michaels has courted Fox’s Troy Aikman to potentially join him at Amazon. Aikman can opt out of his contract with Fox, where he and Joe Buck have been longtime partners.

Now, Michaels and Aikman could possibly make themselves a package deal if ESPN wants in. The just-retired Sean Payton is a possibility, but the names that would really draw interest are Rams coach Sean McVay, if he stepped down, or either Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers if they retire and somehow want to be broadcasters. 

Troy Aikman may pair with Al Michaels at Amazon, but they could potentially be a package deal at ESPN too. Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As for Payton, Fox could have interest in him, but its initial thought is more likely as a studio analyst than on top games, according to sources.

Hanging over all the negotiations is the contract that Romo signed with CBS for 10 years and $180 million. 

Regardless if ESPN pursues Michaels or not, it has decisions it has to make on Levy, Riddick and Griese. Griese’s contract is up, which is the first thing ESPN must resolve.  Even if Michaels were to come aboard, ESPN would need multiple broadcast teams.

Under its new agreement, by 2023, ESPN/ABC will have added six extra games, four of which will be on doubleheader days. 

Cris Collinsworth (l.) and Al Michaels (r.) have been longtime broadcast partners for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” AP

ESPN already has its college duo of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, which it views as a crew it could use as it expands its NFL game coverage. Fowler and Herbstreit called the overflow games this season.

The drama around Michaels’ future as he is about to call a Super Bowl is a blast from the past. In 2006, Michaels agreed to remain with “Monday Night Football” after the package moved from ABC to ESPN. He changed his mind when his analyst, John Madden, went to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” along with his producer Fred Gaudelli and his director Drew Esocoff. Eventually, Disney/ESPN agreed to let Michaels out of his contract in exchange for a long lost Disney character named “Oswald The Rabbit.”

Amazon has already brought Gaudelli into the fold for Thursday night games, which was important to Michaels. Now, though, ESPN is considering if it should try to bring Michaels back to Monday night.

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