The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that Fox would have to set its sights elsewhere, without “a clear Plan B” in place. Marchand had reported earlier this month that ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” had fallen out of the running for Manning’s services, and that program is still without an analyst, following Jon Gruden’s return to the NFL coaching ranks.
ESPN and Fox had been reportedly going hard after Manning, who, two years after he retired, is still among the most recognizable sports figures in America. With ratings dropping for NFL games, but the league still able to charge networks exorbitant rights fees, Manning’s star power and comfortable screen presence made him a top target.
Adding to Manning’s allure has been the instant success of Tony Romo, an ex-quarterback who went straight from the field to the booth last year for CBS and won over viewers with his enthusiasm and command of the game, to the point of occasionally being able to predict what play was about to be run. Romo had a fine NFL career for the Dallas Cowboys, but Manning earned a place in the greatest-ever debate over 17 seasons spent with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, including a Super Bowl title won with each team.
During that time, Manning was able to broaden his fan base outside the football world by showing his comedic touch in appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons” and a Comedy Central roast of Rob Lowe. In addition, the former quarterback proved a more than able pitchman for a variety of major companies, including Nationwide Insurance, DirecTV, Papa John’s, Sprint, MasterCard, Gatorade and Buick.
However, Manning is thought to be more interested in running a team, a la the Broncos’ John Elway, or even having an ownership stake in one. In theory, Manning could wait for that opportunity to come while keeping busy as a TV analyst, but he apparently is not ready to do so just yet, despite saying earlier this year that he wanted to stay “close to the game.”
As for where Fox goes from here, Marchand mentioned another former quarterback, NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner, as a possibility. He also reported that the network has auditioned Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and a pair of recently retired stars, former quarterback Carson Palmer and former offensive tackle Joe Thomas, for its Thursday telecast, for which Fox paid the NFL $3.3 billion on a five-year deal.
Another tight end still in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen, has reportedly auditioned for ESPN, following a guest spot as a color commentator for Fox during a Minnesota Vikings-Los Angeles Rams game in November. As with Witten, he would have to retire from the NFL to take a full-time broadcasting job, just as Romo reportedly turned down offers from NFL teams to join CBS.
Whoever replaces Gruden, he or she won’t be the only new face in the “MNF” booth. Play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough, after two years on the job, is returning to call college football games, and he will be replaced by ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore.