In NFL TV free agency, there is always one name atop the list. He has been pursued by all and hooked by no one. And now a new player has arrived.
As a top sports TV executive said, “The NFL’s white whale is out there for Amazon.”
That is Peyton Manning.
Manning has a long history of being pursued by TV networks and ultimately saying no. But Amazon Prime Video, with its endless pockets and its exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football” beginning in 2022-23, could be the next to make a run at him.
Sources said Amazon has grappled with the idea of pursuing Manning as its main analyst. With Amazon potentially teaming with NBC and hiring Al Michaels as its lead play-by-player, they could go with a star combo of Michaels and Manning. It also could offer Manning “Tony Romo money,” as CBS signed Romo to a 10-year, $180 million contract last year.
To be clear, there is no full Amazon pursuit yet of Manning, and there might not be one. Amazon is doing a thorough search and, though it could bring in Michaels and “Sunday Night Football” executive producer Fred Gaudelli on board, that is not yet a done deal.
Amazon, according to sources, has also had talks with Fox about working together, which, in theory, could put Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on Thursday. Fox is in its final season of Thursday night games this year.
While Amazon has not had any substantial co-production talks with CBS, it is also high on Ian Eagle for play-by-play.
But could the 45-year-old Manning – who has already launched Omaha Productions for his many TV projects – finally be ready to try the booth?
Those close to Manning have long emphasized that he won’t just collect a paycheck. His actions have backed this up, as he has always said no to millions.
Amazon could potentially have two of the three things that Manning would desire, if it does the NBC deal. And Manning may be able to help add the third.
With Michaels in the booth and Gaudelli producing, Manning would have the type of marquee combo that would be appealing to him.
While money is not an issue, everyone wants as much as they can get, and Romo has set the bar high. Manning could say he needs to top Romo’s nearly $1 million per game.
The debate over how much announcers impact viewership is a long one, but this case could be a little different.
If Amazon were to have Michaels and Manning, would the NFL really give the new platform a mediocre schedule? Thursday has some limitations because of traveling restrictions and other rules that can water down the matchups. But if it is Michaels and Manning, Amazon would have a marquee.
While Michaels is still very good, there is a question, with his 77th birthday during the upcoming season, as to how much longer he will want to do games. He is in the final season of his NBC contract and Mike Tirico is restless to move out from his backup position to be the No. 1.
Cris Collinsworth can’t be entirely ruled out as Michaels’ partner, and word is Aikman has enjoyed Thursday nights. Amazon does want to put its own stamp on its exclusive broadcasts, which makes the idea of just borrowing a top crew from another network less enticing.
Amazon’s broadcasts will feature a number of feeds that have the potential to be creative as it likely will have gambling and fan-focused feeds, among others. It also has an incumbent team of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer.
Amazon could try something fresh and does have CBS’ Nate Burleson on its analyst list. But there is only one Manning.
NFL TV executives have been like Captain Ahab with him. Now, the streamers could be on the hunt.