The esteemed status of being a former NFL quarterback sometimes seems a prerequisite for landing a network color analyst gig. That’s little surprise given the high profile that comes with playing the position, but it is interesting that those who were the best quarterbacks often turn out to be the best analysts, as well.
(You bet studio analysts are excluded from this discussion, because two names in particular would destroy such a theory. Joe Montana, who might be the worst analyst ever to appear on an NFL studio show who is not named Ray Lewis, and the perpetually glowering Dan Marino, who often looked at colleague Boomer Esiason like he’d just rejected his gift of Isotoner gloves, were the inverse as broadcasters of what they were as players.)
Through five games this season, two former quarterbacks have been in the booth on CBS’s Patriots telecasts: the familiar Phil Simms (Week 5 at Dallas) and Rich Gannon (Week 2 at Buffalo, Week 3 vs. Jacksonville). Both were decorated players, and both are at least capable analysts. But save for Fox’s Troy Aikman, no current color analyst matches the bona fides of CBS’s Dan Fouts, a Hall of Fame player who is on a very short list of the best broadcasters currently working on Sunday afternoons.
Fouts, who along with play-by-play voice Ian Eagle was elevated to CBS’s No. 2 broadcast team this season (behind Simms and Jim Nantz), will be on the call for the Patriots-Jets game Sunday afternoon. It’s the first time that pairing will have seen the Patriots in person this year, after calling two of their games a season ago.
But based on the tried-and-true Takes One To Know One principle, I asked Fouts, who spent 15 seasons with the Chargers and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, for his thoughts on Tom Brady’s exceptional play at age 38.
“It’s fun to watch, because he is defying Father Time, and Father Time has been undefeated for years,’’ said Fouts, who retired after the 1987 season at age 36. “Every time you see him, he looks basically the same, and that’s a good thing because he’s considered the best in the game. To say he’s better when he wears pink shoelaces or something, that’s stretching it a bit.
“There’s a lot of talk about his improved mobility and everything, but he’s always had great pocket awareness and where the little calm spots are in that pocket. It’s getting more play this year because of the Sunday night game [when Brady scrambled out of trouble and threw a touchdown pass to LeGarrette Blount], but I’ve seen that all along. He navigates so well in the eye of the storm in that pocket.”
Fouts wonders whether the eye of that storm will be more treacherous this week than usual.
“I have to say, the Jets’ defense is legitimate. It really is. What [coach Todd] Bowles has done is remarkable, eliminating the drama and the distractions. It’s different than [former coach] Rex [Ryan’s] style, that’s for sure. This is a real good matchup. The strength of New York is their defense and the strength of New England is their offense. That offensive line of the Patriots is going to be challenged. The pressure the Jets can bring is from everywhere. They can push the pocket up the middle, they can come off the edges, and they’re very effective in their blitzes, but blitzes are rarely effective against Brady.”
Fouts, who knows the value of a talented pass-catching tight end, having thrived with fellow Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow in San Diego, thinks the difference-maker for the Patriots Sunday may be someone who is used to such a role.
“[Rob] Gronkowski has got it all,’’ said Fouts. “The size, which results in a huge catch radius, his strength, and he’s faster than you’d think because he’s a long strider. And he enjoys playing the game, which is a big part of it. He relishes his opportunities, and a kid with that attitude, it picks up the rest of the team.”
ESPN cuts workforce
Tough week at ESPN, with more than 300 employees — roughly 4 percent of its 8,000 employees — receiving layoff notices beginning Wednesday and lasting through the week. Few if any high-profile on-air personalities are expected to be among those losing their jobs since they are signed to individual contracts and are exempt from the layoffs. ESPN has not revealed which departments would be affected, but some behind-the-scenes names trickled out Wednesday night. Notable among them was Gus Ramsey, a widely respected producer . . . Meanwhile, ESPN continues to unabashedly promote Lewis, the ex-Ravens linebacker whose greatest remaining skill since he retired from tackling running backs is promoting himself. Lewis has a new book out, and he was all over the network’s various platforms Wednesday, including a six-minute segment on “SportsCenter” in which he attempted to explain away his involvement in a brawl in January 2000 in which two men were stabbed to death. Lewis initially was charged with murder in the case, but he eventually pled guilty to obstruction of justice. On “SportsCenter,” he discussed the fight, which he also writes about in the book, but he offered nothing but his usual verbal misdirections, at one point saying, “First of all, [the men in the fight] are 4 or 5 inches freaking shorter than me, right? Why would I fight somebody, anyway?” Lewis was an outstanding, charismatic player. He is a terrible analyst, and one who comes with some significant baggage, even if he pretends he’s not carrying it. ESPN shouldn’t promote him. It should move on from him.