By JOE REEDY
AP Sports Writer
NFL free agency doesn’t begin for a few more weeks, however business is about to pick up when it comes to shuffling among the network broadcast teams with perhaps the biggest surprise of them all.
Troy Aikman is expected to become the lead analyst on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” after 22 years with Fox. The New York Post reported that Aikman will sign a five-year deal that would rival the $17.5 million per year Tony Romo is making at CBS .
ESPN and Fox had no comment on Aikman’s future.
Aikman has been with Joe Buck on Fox’s top crew since 2002, but there have been rumblings the past couple of months that the Hall of Fame quarterback had been looking to move on.
Many thought that Aikman would join Al Michaels at Amazon, which takes over “Thursday Night Football” next season. Instead, it is ESPN, which has its star quarterback after falling short with Romo and Peyton Manning in recent seasons.
ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro had tried to get Manning for years to join the “Monday Night Football” booth since he retired after the 2015 season. Pitaro’s patience paid off last year when the Manningcast with Peyton and Eli Manning debuted to rave reviews. The 10-game “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli” package runs through 2024.
Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick have done the main broadcast the past two seasons. Michaels could take another look at ESPN now that they have Aikman.
Michaels was in line to be the play-by-play announcer when the “Monday Night” package moved from ABC to ESPN in 2006. He was traded to NBC after he expressed interest in remaining with John Madden, producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff after they elected to go to “Sunday Night Football.”
The MNF booth has had frequent changes since Mike Tirico left for NBC in 2016. Tirico was the play-by-play voice for 10 seasons (2006-15) and teamed with Jon Gruden for the last seven. Sean McDonough took over for Tirico for 2016 and ’17 and worked with Gruden.
After Gruden left to take over as Raiders coach and McDonough sought to move back to college football, ESPN went with the three-man booth of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland in 2018. Witten struggled as an analyst and decided to return to the playing field in 2019.
Levy, Griese and Riddick could also remain in tact as a second “Monday Night” crew. ESPN/ABC will have 23 regular-season games when the league’s new broadcast deal begins.
ABC will also have the 2027 Super Bowl, marking its return to televising the NFL’s championship game for the first time since 2006.
Fox could bump Greg Olsen up to the top team or it could make a run at former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. If Olsen was promoted, he would follow the same path as Aikman — one year on the No. 2 team before moving up. Whoever succeeds Aikman, it will be an important choice for Fox since it has the 2023 and 2025 Super Bowls. Buck’s contract expires next year.
Tom Brady would be an intriguing prospect for any network, but the recently retired and seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback has not expressed interest in moving to the booth.
Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay could also be a wild card for Fox or Amazon if he decided to retire.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism