As expected, ESPN is shaking up the "Monday Night Football" booth for the 2020 NFL season. The Athletic's Richard Deitsch reported Saturday that Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland are out as the broadcast team, although they will continue to have prominent roles at the network.
The two were often criticized last season, and it was no secret ESPN wanted to replace them with bigger names. The network reportedly offered to make Tony Romo the highest-paid broadcaster ever, which he later became when he re-signed with CBS. Then it reportedly offered Peyton Manning more money than Romo, tried to trade for Al Michaels from NBC and showed a willingness to wait for Drew Brees to retire to secure him for the booth. All three declined.
It should be noted, however, that Tessitore and McFarland didn't have a great slate of games to work with in 2019. Ten of the 17 matchups were decided by 13 points or more, and the starting quarterbacks during the first eight weeks included Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum (against Mitchell Trubisky), Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mason Rudolph (twice).
The 2020 "Monday Night Football" schedule, on the other hand, is the best in recent memory. Week 2 will showcase the Raiders' debut in Las Vegas, followed by the most anticipated game of the season in Week 3 when the Chiefs visit the Ravens.
ESPN wants to pair that improved schedule with an improved broadcast team, but can it be done? The network is exploring internal options, according to Deitsch's report. Shelling out millions to an outsider would be a tough look with ESPN asking 100 of its highest-paid commentators, as well as top executives, to take a temporary pay cut because of the coronavirus pandemic.
After looking at the narrowed list of options, Sporting News ranks the best choices:
Who should ESPN promote to the 'Monday Night Football' booth?
1. Dan Orlovsky
Orlovsky seems like a random choice at first glance. If his NFL career is remembered at all, it's for obliviously running out of the back of the end zone for a safety during the Lions' winless 2008 season. He retired from the NFL just in 2017, but his young broadcasting career has already exceeded his career as a player.
He started by breaking down game tape on social media, which led to guest appearances on multiple networks. Then ESPN offered him a job as a main contributor to shows like "Get Up" and as a color commentator on college football games. He has turned into a star. Entertaining and analytical, he makes viewers smarter with his football insights and easily digestible breakdowns. He has even had "multiple teams" reach out to him about joining their offensive coaching staffs.
There is zero doubt who should be in the booth for Monday Night Football. It’s my boy @danorlovsky7. He played the game at the highest level, he talks the game at the highest level and he’s one of the best dudes I know! #nobrainer
— Matt Leinart (@MattLeinartQB) May 9, 2020
Fans will likely respond with Orlovsky's lack of NFL success, which is true. He went 2-10 as a starter in the NFL, with 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. But some of ESPN's most renowned broadcasters weren't stars during their playing days. Kirk Herbstreit had five touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his entire college career at Ohio State, yet he's the face of ESPN's college football coverage. Jay Bilas averaged less than seven points and five rebounds his senior year at Duke, but every college basketball fan knows him.
The move wouldn't excite fans like an acquisition of Romo, Manning or Brees would have, but it wouldn't take long for the audience to appreciate the improvement Orlovsky would represent in the booth.
2. Louis Riddick
Riddick is another contender who doesn't have the name recognition of those star QBs who've turned down the role. He does, though, bring experience on multiple levels. He had a six-year NFL career as a defensive back and then found more success as a scout and director of pro personnel for the Redskins and Eagles. He was a finalist for the 49ers' GM job in 2017 before John Lynch was hired.
Riddick was also a finalist for a spot in the "MNF" booth in 2018, but McFarland got the nod.
"This is something that has been a goal of mine and ESPN is very well aware that I am very interested in it,” Riddick said on the SI Media Podcast that year. “It is the pinnacle of broadcasting as far as I am concerned, the most iconic position in broadcasting. To be involved with 'Monday Night Football,' either as a play-by-play person or analyst, is something I am hoping I can achieve.”
Riddick was disappointed he didn't get the job then, but he said in a 2019 interview with The Athletic that the "ultimate goal" is still calling "a big, prime-time National Football League game on a regular basis."
This could finally be Riddick's shot.
3. Dan Orlovsky and Louis Riddick
The last three-man "Monday Night Football," with Tessitore, McFarland and Jason Witten in 2018, was a disaster. That might make ESPN hesitant to pair Orlovsky and Riddick with a play-by-play announcer, which is why the duo comes in at No. 3 on this list.
It still might be the best option, however. Orlovsky brings the mind of a quarterback and Riddick brings the mind of a defensive player and front office member. They also have communication skills that can run circles around Witten and McFarland. They seem to be the candidates who are mentioned the most often, so why not give them both a shot?
4. Pat McAfee
McAfee himself said Saturday that the chances of him getting in the "MNF" booth in 2020 are slim.
I think we’re 10 yrs away from said job that everybody is currently tweeting me about right now.
Think it’s gonna have to be the next batch of executives.
All good btw, I’m enjoying the hell out of the YouTube daily show life.
Would I dominate in that booth?
ABSOLUTELY.. BUT pic.twitter.com/jApA8cBOAW
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) May 9, 2020
That doesn't mean he wouldn't be a great option. McAfee is different from the other candidates because he appears to place entertainment at the top of his priority list, which might sound like a negative but isn't. McAfee could have thrived during the continuous Monday night blowouts in 2019.
He was electric on the call of a meaningless Week 17 game between the Lions and Packers for Fox.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 30, 2018
5. Steve Levy
Levy is the other name that continuously comes up as a 2020 "MNF" booth candidate. He also appears to be the most likely to be chosen. Two of ESPN's prominent football broadcasters, Tessitore and Sean McDonough, have already been the play-by-play announcer for the series.
Maybe ESPN would consider someone like Jason Benetti or Dave Pasch, but Levy has been on the call in recent years when ESPN has had two Monday night games in a week. Unless the network reaches across sports for someone like Dan Shulman or moves Rece Davis or Chris Fowler off college football, Levy is the probable choice.