ESPN apparently isn’t surrendering hope of putting Peyton Manning in the booth for “Monday Night Football” games this season.
Jimmy Pitaro, the network’s president, and Connor Schell, its executive vice president for content, flew to Denver last week to woo the retired quarterback, according to the Hollywood Reporter, which noted there’s no indication what Manning’s level of interest may be.
As for ESPN, its approach reportedly is “Manning or bust.” With Jason Witten’s decision to return to the Dallas Cowboys after one season in the booth, the man who co-wrote a book about ESPN and remains plugged into the network’s inner workings thinks there will be a two-person booth with Joe Tessitore doing play-by-play and Booger McFarland analyzing the game unless Manning decides to give it a try.
“They’re going to have a two-man booth unless somehow Peyton changes his mind,” Jim Miller said on the latest Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. “They have a relationship with Peyton because of the ESPN+ show right now, and Peyton has thought about this. But if you’re Peyton, what’s the upside?”
That’s a question he seems to be pondering, too. He was a hot commodity a year ago, when every network was seeking the next Tony Romo after Jon Gruden left “MNF” and Fox landed “Thursday Night Football” games. Despite the demand, Manning was “reluctant,” although the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that ESPN was willing to “back up the truck” for him after paying Gruden $6.5 million. He reportedly declined an annual salary offer of between $4 million and $7 million, partly because he didn’t want to work games involving his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “I don’t want to be a critic at this point,” he said last April.
Since retiring in March 2016, Manning has focused on TV commercials, offering a joking apology in the fall of 2017 “to all the people out there who are tired of seeing me on commercials.” Last season, he tried his hand at football analysis for ESPN’s streaming service, working on “Detail,” a show created by Kobe Bryant’s production company. That effort was warmly received.
In addition, there has been speculation that he might become the part owner of a team, a possibility he addressed with a nonchalant wisecrack to Peter King in the fall of 2017, “I keep looking for that $2.5 billion in my pocket.” Whether he’s owning a team, running one, calling games or doing another form of analysis, he told King that he believes “in staying close to the game” with all the preparation that entails.
“I went to the combine last year and met with some GMs and some owners to pick their brains on different sides of things. I sat in with a team during the NFL draft this year,” he told King at that time. “I stayed off camera, but I was able to sit in and watch. Oftentimes if I am speaking at a certain event, I will stop by that NFL team or college team and go talk some football.
“But I know what that job entails, and that is an all-in job. That is a do-not-put-your-phone-down-ever job. It’s a 24-7-365 days a year job. Because I know what that commitment is and what that job entails, it is just not the right place for me right now. I really am enjoying what I’m doing. As far as what will happen in the next few years I can’t really say, but like I said, I will always be close to the game.”
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