Tony Romo, whose initial contract with CBS expired with the AFC title game between the Titans and the Chiefs, is poised to become the highest paid game announcer in sports history, with CBS and ESPN dueling to sign him to a contract that is likely to be in the $15 to $20 million a year range.
The 39 year old Romo, who made $127 million as Dallas Cowboys quarterback during the course of his football career, will see his salary skyrocket from $3 million a year to north of $15 million based on CBS having the right to match any offer made by another network.
ESPN is attempting to hire Romo away and the two sides recently passed $15 million a year in bidding.
Why is Romo so valuable?
Partly it’s his talent, but even more important than that is the message hiring Romo sends to the NFL. After Jon Gruden left the booth to return to coaching, ESPN elevated Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland to its lead broadcast team on Monday Night Football. Witten spent just one year in the booth before he bolted, returning to play football for the Dallas Cowboys. That left Tessitore and McFarland as the Monday Night Football duo for this past season. The pairing was not well received.
Disney is desperate to retain the Monday Night Football NFL broadcast rights as part of a new deal in the years ahead. Indeed, ESPN wants to simulcast Monday Night Football on ABC, see itself added to the Super Bowl rotation, and get flexible scheduling for its Monday night games so they aren’t stuck with dud games that don’t matter late in the season.
While paying Romo $15-20 million a year would be a hefty pricetag, if ESPN added the Super Bowl and kept Monday Night Football, expanding it to ABC and receiving flexible scheduling, Romo’s salary would be a small rounding error on what would be a multi-billion dollar contract.
CBS, meanwhile, is desperate to retain the NFL rights package it has and keeping Romo, especially after the network recently lost the SEC to ESPN, sends a strong message to the NFL about its priorities when it comes to its lead broadcast team.
What’s more, what would CBS do if Romo leaves? CBS replaced Phil Simms to hire Romo. Could they go back to Simms and re-elevate him to the lead announcer team alongside Jim Nantz? That seems unlikely. So CBS would have to find a replacement for Romo and that replacement would have to be ready to call the Super Bowl in February since CBS has Super Bowl 55 in Tampa.
Interestingly, a similar situation led to John Madden receiving a monstrous offer from Fox back in 1994. Madden, who Fox needed to demonstrate how legitimate they were after stealing away the NFL rights from CBS, received nearly $8 million a year back in 1994, which is roughly $15 million in today’s present dollars when adjusted for inflation. Now Romo is ready to become the next Madden, only with the highest broadcaster salary in history.
Romo’s free agency has led to a high stakes game of poker. Every time ESPN raises their salary offer for Romo, CBS matches. Now we’re at $15 million. Could Romo’s salary go to $20 million or more? Potentially.
Yes, the quarterback free agency market is likely to be hot in the NFL, but it might be even hotter for Romo off the field. So much so that Romo, who turns forty in April, could end up making far more as an announcer than he ever did as a player.