NFL announcers’ game of musical chairs is over; here’s where top voices are sitting

The game of musical chairs among NFL announcers is over. Drew Brees was left standing, and an extra chair remains conspicuously off to the side awaiting Tom Brady.

The top teams at each network are in place for next season after a chaotic offseason. The last time we saw such broadcaster movement was 1994, when Fox outbid CBS for the NFC package and took many of the network’s announcers with it.

Troy Aikman was the first to switch teams, leaving Fox for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” booth. Fox then let Joe Buck out of the last year of his contract so he could join his longtime broadcast partner at ESPN, where Buck’s wife, Michelle Beisner-Buck, is an NFL reporter.

Meanwhile, Al Michaels was expected to become the voice of Amazon’s new “Thursday Night Football” package once his NBC contract expired, but he seemed to be waiting to see where others landed. Aikman was an Amazon target, but when he joined ESPN, Amazon turned to ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. Once Buck’s move became official, Michaels officially joined Amazon.

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen move up to replace Buck and Aikman as Fox’s top team, but the network sent the industry into a tizzy with the announcement that quarterback Tom Brady would join Burkhardt whenever he’s done playing. Fox will air the Super Bowl this season, with Burkhardt and Olsen on the call. Will Brady be in the booth when Fox airs it again in two seasons?

Elsewhere, Mike Tirico finally takes over for Michaels on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” But his former “Football Night in America” studio partner Brees is out after one year. It was believed that Brees eventually would join Tirico, but the network reupped with Cris Collinsworth. Brees had a poor showing as the analyst on a playoff game last season, but NBC had been talking with Collinsworth before that.

The only No. 1 booth unchanged is at CBS, where Jim Nantz and Tony Romo return. Of course, it was CBS that started all this maneuvering and negotiating when it gave Romo a reported 10-year, $180 million contract just before the pandemic took hold in 2020. His first contract with the network was for three years and $9 million, but he became such a phenomenon that ESPN pursued him and drove up his price.

So one could argue that ESPN is the real reason behind all this. The network’s inability to find a suitable “MNF” booth and the abuse it took in media circles forced it to take drastic measures, thus skyrocketing the market for top NFL announcers. Of course, with networks combining to pay the NFL $110 billion over 11 years starting in 2023, what’s $10 million to $20 million between friends?

Here’s a closer look at each network’s top NFL booth:

Amazon Prime Video

Al Michaels & Kirk Herbstreit

This crew gives Amazon instant credibility. Compare it to Apple, which has been criticized for its inexperienced announcing teams in the streamer’s first season airing MLB games. Amazon won’t have that problem. Michaels is the best NFL announcer of all time. In the few NFL games Herbstreit has called, viewers would’ve thought he’d been calling them for years. He’s still ESPN’s lead college football analyst, so his life will be busier. But with his work ethic, Herbstreit should be able to handle the load.

CBS

Jim Nantz & Tony Romo

Romo’s stock has fallen a bit since he burst onto the scene as a rookie analyst, predicting plays and speaking with a youthful enthusiasm. He still can be very good, as he was at the end of the Bills-Chiefs playoff game last season. But he also can be very bad, as he was a week later at the end of the Bengals-Chiefs AFC title game. It seems that the same enthusiasm that makes Romo endearing can come back to bite him with rushed judgments and wrong analysis. Expect Nantz to continue working with his pupil.

ESPN/ABC

Joe Buck & Troy Aikman

The last “MNF” booth to stick for more than two seasons was the Tirico-Jon Gruden pairing from 2009 to 2015. Then the revolving door began spinning. Unable to assemble a stable crew of its own, ESPN poached Fox’s. Buck and Aikman have worked together for 20 seasons. After being unfairly criticized by viewers seemingly from the start, Buck has seen much less vitriol of late. Aikman delivers strong analysis and opinions. He also has shown an entertaining wry wit. Of these five No. 1 pairings, they’re No. 1.

Fox

Kevin Burkhardt & Greg Olsen

Olsen isn’t merely a placeholder for Brady. He’s very good, and Burkhardt believes he’s going to be a star. If Brady plays for another three years, Olsen will call two Super Bowls in that span. Olsen could set himself up for a top job at another network, or maybe Brady never sees the inside of a booth and Olsen keeps the job. This year is proof that anything can happen. Burkhardt is as solid as they come, and he has developed an excellent rapport with Olsen.

NBC

Mike Tirico & Cris Collinsworth

Tirico is a pro. He sets the scene, provides context and is as sharp as a tack. He has worked with Collinsworth many times already filling in for Michaels. Collinsworth is a great analyst, but sometimes you hear what coaches want you to hear through him. “SNF” has the biggest change in sideline reporters, with Melissa Stark replacing Michele Tafoya, who left to pursue other interests. Stark, who works for NFL Network, was the sideline reporter on “MNF” from 2000 to ’02.

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