The words I’m coming out of retirement were barely out of Jason Witten’s mouth, when the speculation began on who would replace him as the analyst for Monday Night Football. Witten’s one-year stint on the ESPN broadcast was heavily criticized, and may have led to his decision to rejoin the Dallas Cowboys.
The network sent out a statement when Witten announced last Thursday he was coming out of retirement to return to football, but executives have not made any public comments about his replacement.
“We thank Jason for his many contributions to Monday Night Football and to ESPN over the past year and wish him continued success,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have seen many former coaches and players go into broadcasting before eventually returning to the game they love, so we understand Jason’s desire to return to the Dallas Cowboys. In the coming weeks we will determine our MNF plans for the 2019 season.”
Peyton Manning Favorite
The first name that came to the minds of media pundits and oddsmakers was Peyton Manning. The future Hall of Fame quarterback is the betting favorite to replace Witten.
BetOnline has Manning at 2/1. He was offered the job last year when ESPN revamped their broadcast team, after Jon Gruden left to become coach of the Oakland Raiders. They hired Joe Tessitore to take over for Sean McDonough as the play-by-play announcer, but were unsuccessful on wooing Manning to be the analyst.
Manning, though turned down the job and the network instead brought in Witten and Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters to work on the sidelines. There are rumors that McFarland will be in the booth next season, sharing duties with whoever gets the job.
The 42-year-old Manning has been hosting an ESPN+ show called Details, where he shares his insights on NFL games throughout the season and analyzes the film. The show has been getting positive reviews, and ESPN executives might be more successful luring Manning into the booth. He did reportedly turn down a $10 million offer last year for the job.
Kurt Warner Close Second
When the odds first came out former quarterback Kurt Warner was listed at 9/1. In just three days, however he has moved up to the second pick at 9/4. Warner works the Monday Night Football games on ESPN radio and does a solid job.
But he may have hurt his chances after losing out to Witten last year. When it was announced the Cowboys tight end had beaten out Warner, he wasn’t happy about it and posted his feelings on Twitter.
“I remember the days growing up believing the BEST person for the job — not race, not gender, not age, not pedigree — led to gaining position… trying to figure out if it ever TRULY applied (thinking I was just a naive kid) but, if so, how did we get so backwards!?” Warner wrote last year.
That may rankle ESPN brass, who are not a big fan of critiques regarding the brand.
Dark Horse Candidates
Following Manning and Warner is Louis Riddick at 7/2, and Carolina tight end Greg Olsen at 15/4.
Reddick, like Warner, was a candidate last year for the job. He is a former player and team executive, and could provide insight from two different perspectives. He has been with ESPN since 2013.
Getting Olsen in the booth might be tricky. The Panthers’ tight end said he wants to return for another season, but both ESPN and FOX have approached him about joining their football broadcast teams, and if they throw enough money at him, he might just retire.