For the fourth-straight year, ESPN introduces a new Monday Night Football booth.
This offseason, ESPN went big-game hunting to fill the booth with QBs. It tried to lure talents with millions and millions — and, for Tony Romo, additional millions — of dollars. The network took aggressive swings at Romo, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees (for a deal when he retires). If it were a baseball inning, ESPN’s first three batters struck out swinging.
Knowing Booger McFarland could not return, and that the audience had turned on Joe Tessitore (more on that later), ESPN moved to its backup plans. Riddick, Griese, and Dan Orlovsky emerged as options at analyst. Sources instantly referred to Steve Levy as the frontrunner to call Monday Night Football. Due to uncertainties with the college football season, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler were discussed.
Ultimately, given the options, ESPN made the right decision.
Griese is more polished in the booth than Orlovsky. While Orlovsky likely would’ve done well, he was a risk. If it didn’t work, it would derail his crucial, built-up momentum. Instead, Orlovsky will focus on a revamped NFL Live with Laura Rutledge, Mina Kimes, Marcus Spears, and Keyshawn Johnson.
On college games, Herbstreit is a star. Like Orlovsky, there’s a risk-reward argument to be had. With some semblance of a college football season expected, pulling double duty would’ve stretched Herbstreit thin.
Griese is solid and has limited bust potential. If he were a prospect he would be high-floor, low-ceiling. Riddick is one of the network’s top football analysts. His impressive showing at the NFL Draft made his case. Jason Witten and Booger McFarland were a disaster. McFarland, alone, wasn’t any better. Riddick and Griese are a sure upgrade.
Levy takes over for Tessitore, who got a bad deal. Tessitore’s blame for the past two seasons far outweighs the amount he’s reasonable for. Paired with the two worst primetime NFL color commentators anyone can remember, Tessitore was in an unwinnable position. Levy is a safe pick; he’ll do well navigating a three-person booth.
Ideally, this booth can make it a year without widespread rumors. Last year, the year-long, in-season Romo talks loomed over the booth like a black cloud on a trip to the park. This concern won’t go away. It won’t be Romo, but there’s Philip Rivers, who could retire after this season. Brees’ deal set a precedent. In the next few years, could Alex Smith receive a similar offer? Industry experts see Smith, who has played for key franchises, both AFC and NFC, as a future star in the booth. It’s unclear, however, if Smith has broadcasting aspirations when he retires.
The expected trio will inherit a unique set of circumstances. Due to COVID-19, the stadiums could be empty, players could miss games last minute, and there’s the threat of an outbreak impacting future games. Additionally, the truncated offseason should hurt the quality of matchups early on.
These are not impossible obstacles. But challenges even the great booths must overcome.