The Drew Brees signing by NBC may one day prove to be brilliant, a mistake or somewhere in between. It definitely already is intriguing — especially regarding what it means for arguably the greatest NFL play-by-player of all-time and his longtime partner.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth may be set to call the next Super Bowl for NBC, but it looks like the network has already signed their replacements: Mike Tirico and former Saints quarterback Brees, who announced his retirement from the NFL on Sunday.
Michaels, 76, is in the final year of his deal and with Tirico, the post-Bob Costas face of NBC, on board, the situation has been simmering for a while.
Now, after the official announcement and press call Wednesday of Brees’ arrival, Tirico and Brees will be calling Notre Dame football games on Saturdays and then teaming on the “Sunday Night Football” pregame show before Michaels and Collinsworth call the NFL games.
The whole situation has a Leno-Conan late night vibe.
Asked if he wants to call a Super Bowl one day, Brees danced in the pocket, avoiding the question while making his love for Tirico clear.
“I’m as excited to be in the booth with Mike Tirico as I was to throw passes to Michael Thomas on Sundays,” said the 42-year-old Brees. “I am dead serious when I say that.”
NBC’s plan is understandable from a strategic standpoint. With new 11-year NFL TV deals on the horizon, they don’t want to be caught on the announcer carousel, like ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
Tirico is more than ready to go, but Michaels is still in his way. Meanwhile, the 62-year-old Collinsworth now has Brees lurking over his shoulder.
“With Mike and Al, that process and conversation continues,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said, borrowing Brees’ dancing shoes, when asked directly what the plan is for the future. “It will be similar to last year [when Michaels did the majority of the games and Tirico did some fill-ins] in terms of how we map that out.
“In terms of ‘Sunday Night Football’ and Cris, Cris remains one of the best who has ever done it. The plan is to have him in that chair for a long time, so the opportunity down the road is not something we are looking at right now.”
In theory, Michaels could finish up this season, calling a Super Bowl in his hometown of Los Angeles next February. That would be a storybook ending for what has been a storybook career.
There is, however, one problem.
Michaels has shown no inclination that he wants to retire. To borrow a metaphor from Michaels’ first love, baseball, he may not still throw 100, but he remains consistently at 93, 94 and on the black.
A year ago, Disney/ABC/ESPN had a dream scenario to alleviate NBC’s issue and solve its own on “Monday Night Football.” It first called for signing Tony Romo as a free agent from CBS, then dealing for Michaels. But Romo stayed at CBS for a slight raise ($180 million over 10 years), while NBC quashed ESPN’s request for backsies for Michaels. (In 2006, ESPN dealt Michaels to NBC in a trade involving Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character created by Walt Disney, but subsequently licensed to NBCUniversal.)
With ABC/ESPN expected to have an upgraded “Monday Night Footballl” package in the forthcoming TV deal, a free-agent return by Michaels to conclude his legendary career does not seem out of the question. Even the current play-by-player, Steve Levy, has had the thought.
“If Al decides on a whim that it might be fun to go back to ‘Monday Night Football,’ ” Levy said jokingly in a recent interview with The Athletic, “I’ll be like, ‘Here you go, Al.’ What am I going to say to Al Michaels?”
Eventually, NBC could slide Collinsworth into the pregame show, allowing him to work directly with his son, Jac.
This scenario is all not that new to people on the inside of NBC. A year ago, the network and Brees first agreed to the deal. NBC still has Michaels and Collinsworth, but Tirico and Brees are the future.
NBC may not say it all publicly, but the plan is in plain sight.