The NFL offseason was marked by superstars changing teams, often for jaw-dropping amounts of money.
And I’m talking about broadcasters, not players.
The moves were so significant that it almost felt like they belonged alongside the actual sports transactions in agate type. Something like this:
ESPN: Signed play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman to five-year contracts.
Even those involved marveled at the magnitude of it all.
“Oh, it’s been wild,’’ said Buck, who along with his longtime broadcast partner Aikman left Fox for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
“All of these musical chairs and everything that’s gone on this last crazy offseason with broadcasters. Nobody has ever seen anything like it. I don’t think anybody ever cares to see it again, to be honest with you. But I can’t wait to get going.”
With the season having kicked off with NBC’s broadcast of the Bills’ rout of the Super Bowl champion Rams Thursday night, here’s a primer on which high-profile broadcasters are where:
ESPN: Buck and Aikman’s move, which became official in March, was seismic for a couple of reasons.
First, the massive salaries: Aikman’s deal averages more than $18 million per year, surpassing CBS’s Tony Romo for the highest average annual value for an NFL broadcaster. (Aikman won’t be the highest paid once Tom Brady begins his second career, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Meanwhile, Buck will pull in $15 million per year.
Second, their hiring brings buzz back to “Monday Night Football,” which featured the reliable but hardly high-wattage trio of Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, and Brian Griese the past two seasons. Stephanie Druley, ESPN vice president, event and studio production, acknowledged that she believes “Monday Night Football” received a more appealing schedule this season because of its higher-profile broadcast team.
Buck and Aikman called six Super Bowls — the first with Cris Collinsworth also in the booth — during their 20 years at Fox. They, along with Collinsworth, replaced the iconic Pat Summerall/John Madden duo as Fox’s No. 1 team in 2002. They have been a tandem since 2005, when Collinsworth went to NBC, rising to the moment in the highest-profile games.
They belong in prime time, and Buck, who had a childhood seat to the wonders of “Monday Night Football” when his father, Jack, was the radio voice, is thrilled to have the opportunity.
“I think for people of a certain generation when you hear that theme song, and back in the day with the yellow jackets and the pomp and circumstance and kind of the craziness that happened at ‘Monday Night Football,’ it just has always been something in my mind as the pinnacle of being in any booth anywhere,” said Buck. “That includes the World Series. That includes NBA Finals. That includes Stanley Cup Finals. That includes anything.
“When that music hits and [we] are presenting these games on a stand-alone night, it’s going to be extremely special. That’s not hyperbole. That’s how I feel.”
NBC: “Sunday Night Football” has been the No. 1 prime-time program — not sporting event, program — for 11 straight years. There’s always some risk in changing something so successful, but it’s not like NBC’s broadcast team will be unfamiliar.
Mike Tirico takes over the play-by-play role from Al Michaels, who moved to Thursday night games on Amazon Prime after 16 years on “Sunday Night Football.” Tirico is no novice, having called “Monday Night Football” on ESPN/ABC from 2006-15. This will be his 17th straight season calling NFL games.
Tirico’s chemistry with Collinsworth, who begins his 14th season as “SNF’s” color analyst, is already in place. They’ve worked more than 20 games together. Melissa Stark is the new sideline reporter.
“It really is hard to believe that it doesn’t feel like a new team,” said Collinsworth. “I don’t even know if that makes sense or not. But I know these — you know, I just know them. I’ve worked with them. I know exactly who they are.
“Mike and I communicate very easily. We’ve done a full season’s worth of games plus together. We’re all friends.”
Amazon Prime: The streaming service takes over the rights to Thursday night broadcasts, beginning with the Sept. 15 Chiefs-Chargers matchup. Michaels, who is said to be making “Joe Buck money” in his new role, will continue in an emeritus role with NBC, and expects to call postseason games for the network. He’s built a quick rapport with his fellow high-profile partner, analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who takes on the NFL after becoming the premier college football analyst on ESPN’s “College GameDay” and its Saturday night prime-time game, which he will continue.
Fox: Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen were deservedly elevated to the No. 1 broadcast team with Buck and Aikman’s departures, but there is a long, lanky shadow lurking over the booth. In May, Brady signed a 10-year, $375 million deal to become the network’s No. 1 NFL analyst once his playing career ends. When that will be remains a mystery. This is a Super Bowl year for Fox, so if Brady’s Buccaneers aren’t in the championship game, it will be fascinating to see whether the network adds him to its coverage even though he’s a relative novice whose approach to candor suggests he’ll be more like Drew Brees as a broadcaster than Romo.
CBS: So this is what stability looks like nowadays. Jim Nantz, Romo, and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson are back for their sixth season as the network’s No. 1 team. “You saw what happened there in the offseason,” said Nantz. “The terms. The numbers. All of these guys that moved around in the offseason, these are all friends and people we’re familiar with. And we wish them well. I worry about what we do, though. And we’re just going to keep doing our thing.”