Legendary Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has turned down a chance to be the featured voice of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” programming, according to a report from Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy.
— Sporting News NFL (@sn_nfl) April 22, 2019
It’s been a poorly kept secret that ESPN has pined after Manning to replace Jason Witten as the color commentator, after the latter abruptly came out of retirement to rejoin the Dallas Cowboys.
While it’s a stinging blow for ESPN, considering they will be on their third color commentator in as many years following the departures of Witten and current Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, it couldn’t have been a particularly big surprise.
Manning had previously balked at the idea of joining ESPN’s MNF coverage in 2018 and it’s not clear what ESPN could’ve done, if anything, to get Manning to have changed his mind.
If anything, given the intense scrutiny and criticism that Witten had endured in his lone season as the MNF color commentator, Manning was probably even less receptive to the idea than he was in 2018.
As The Hollywood Reporter notes, ESPN had courted Manning in March to join MNF. Clearly, those attempts were unsuccessful.
While ESPN may have whiffed on luring Manning to Monday nights, the company will still work with the former quarterback as part of their ESPN+ online series “Detail,” wherein Manning intricately breaks down various plays in the NFL. Manning was also recently signed to another online show, “Peyton’s Place.”
“He won’t be doing ‘Monday Night,’ but ESPN will still be in the Peyton Manning business in a ‘very big way,'” an unnamed source told Sporting News.
So, if he won’t be covering MNF, what exactly is Manning aiming for besides becoming indelibly linked to that catchy Nationwide jingle?
As has been reported in the past, Manning is still deeply interested in becoming a front-office member of an NFL franchise, much like the role John Elway occupies for the Denver Broncos.
Sources confirmed to Sporting News that those desires to move into the front office are still very much alive.
It’s also been reported that Manning’s desire not to call any games involving his younger brother, Eli, also played a role in his decision not to announce NFL games.
To be fair, despite ESPN’s desire to sign Manning, there is absolutely no guarantee that he would’ve been a star commentator. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s success on CBS seems to be the exception, not the rule.
For ESPN, it’s just the latest blow in what’s been a maelstrom surrounding the network’s flagship NFL program. Current ESPN NFL pundits such as Louis Riddick and Rex Ryan could both be in play to replace Witten. Current MNF commentator Booger McFarland could also see an increased role.
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