Barry Jackson

Networks make major NFL talent changes with Romo the biggest addition

Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo, above, replaces Phil Simms as one of the lead analysts for CBS.
Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo, above, replaces Phil Simms as one of the lead analysts for CBS. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

It’s difficult to recall a more eventful offseason from an NFL broadcast perspective, with CBS pushing Phil Simms out of its lead booth after 19 seasons and replacing him with Tony Romo; ESPN gently nudging aside Chris Berman after 31 years as its NFL host and taking a three-pronged approach to replace him; and Jay Cutler retiring to join Fox’s No. 2 team and then un-retiring to quarterback the Dolphins, with Fox kiddingly issuing a statement that it enjoyed working with him.

Where each rights-holder stands entering 2017:

CBS

▪ What’s on: Primarily road games of AFC teams on Sundays, plus five September/October Thursday night games (including Dolphins-Ravens on Oct. 26) and Chargers-Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

▪ What’s new: A lot. Romo wasn’t only hired directly off the field; he was immediately thrust into the high-pressure spotlight of the No. 1 announcing team, alongside Jim Nantz. … Simms moves to the studio, alongside incumbents James Brown, Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason and newcomer Nate Burleson. Tony Gonzalez left because he didn’t want to travel from California to New York every weekend, and Bart Scott was dropped. … CBS dumped Solomon Wilcots after 14 seasons and replaced him with former receiver James Lofton, who impressed the network’s executives as an analyst on CBS Radio/Westwood One.

▪ Announcing teams in order: Nantz-Romo, Ian Eagle-Dan Fouts, Greg Gumbel-Trent Green, Kevin Harlan-Rich Gannon, Andrew Catalon-Lofton, Spero Dedes-Adam Archuleta, Tom McCarthy-Steve Tasker-Steve Beuerlein, Beth Mowins-Jay Feely.

▪ The view here: Romo is smart, self-deprecating and has many of the qualities needed to be a very good game analyst. Whether he’s ready to be a lead game analyst is the unknown variable. … Simms —opinionated and glib as a studio analyst — should give “The NFL Today” a needed jolt. And Burleson, who impressed on NFL Network, is an upgrade over Scott, who couldn’t speak concisely. … Mowins will work four games, becoming the first woman to call NFL games for CBS.

FOX

▪ What’s on: Primarily road games of NFC teams on Sundays, plus Vikings-Lions on Thanksgiving.

▪ What’s new: After John Lynch left Fox’s No. 2 team to become general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, Fox came up with a creative plan to replace him, hiring Cutler and promoting Charles Davis to work alongside play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt. But with Cutler leaving for the Dolphins, Fox opted to have Davis work with Burkhardt in a two-man booth. … Gonzalez, who left CBS, joins Fox’s pre-pre-game show at 11 a.m. … Schlereth transitions from an ESPN studio analyst to a Fox game analyst.

▪ Announcing teams in order: Joe Buck-Troy Aikman, Burkhardt-Davis, Kenny Albert-Ronde Barber, Chris Myers-Daryl Johnston, Dick Stockton-Mark Schlereth, Thom Brennaman-Chris Spielman, Sam Rosen-David Diehl.

▪ The view here: Cutler left Fox a couple weeks before his first assignment, but the prepared, likable Davis should capably fill the No. 2 job.

NBC

▪ What’s on: Sunday night games, plus Chiefs-Patriots on the opening night of the season (Thursday, Sept. 7), Giants-Redskins on Thanksgiving night and Vikings-Packers on Saturday night, Dec. 23, and five November/December Thursday night games.

▪ What’s new: The NFL, which insisted on Al Michaels calling the Thursday night games last season, has relented and will allow Mike Tirico to work most of those games — five airing only on NBC and four others on NFL Network.

▪ Announcing teams: Michaels-Cris Collinsworth on Sunday nights, Tirico-Collinsworth on Thursday nights.

▪ The view here: The NFL’s decision to allow Tirico to work the Thursday games wasn’t its only sensible move regarding NBC. This was, too: In Weeks 5-9, Sunday night flexible scheduling may now be used for the first time, but no more than for two of those five weeks. As was the case in past years, the flex schedule will continue to be used in Weeks 10-15 and 17.  

ESPN

▪ What’s on: Monday night games, including an opening night doubleheader of Saints-Vikings and Chargers-Broncos.

▪ What’s new: Samantha Ponder, a bold but somewhat surprising choice, replaces Berman on Sunday NFL Countdown and Suzy Kolber takes over as host of “Monday Countdown.” Trey Wingo, Berman’s primary backup in recent years, landed neither host gig but was given two good assignments: the NFL Draft and the morning co-host chair (alongside Mike Golic) on ESPN Radio, with Mike Greenberg leaving radio to launch his own ESPN TV show…

The Ponder-hosted “Sunday Countdown” has been expanded from two hours to three (10 a.m.-1 p.m.), with Rex Ryan joining the returning three analysts: Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss and Charles Woodson. … ESPN dumped Trent Dilfer, a ubiquitous presence on its studio shows in recent years, and reporters John Clayton and Ed Werder, among others, as part of major layoffs.

▪ Announcing team: Sean McDonough-Jon Gruden. Mowins and Ryan will call the second game of the opening Monday night doubleheader (Chargers-Broncos). Mowins, a longtime college football announcer, will be the first woman to call an NFL game on network TV since Gayle Sierens announced one for NBC in 1987.

▪ The view here: The McDonough/Gruden pairing wasn’t quite as good a listen as the Mike Tirico/Gruden pairing, which speaks more to Tirico’s excellence than any particular deficiency with McDonough. Though all ears will be on Mowins on her opening-night game, I’m more interested in how Ryan sounds as a game analyst, his only scheduled out-of-studio assignment all year.

NFL Network

▪ What’s on: Five Thursday night games that will be simulcast on CBS, five games that will be simulcast on NBC (four on Thursdays, one on Saturday), plus nine games that NFL Net will have to its own: four on Thursdays; Minnesota-Cleveland at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 29 from London, and three Saturday games: a Bears-Lions/Chargers-Chiefs doubleheader at 4:30 and 8:25 p.m. Saturday Dec. 16, and an Indianapolis-Baltimore Saturday night game on Dec. 23.

▪ What’s new: Former NFL receiver Steve Smith was hired as a Sunday morning studio analyst.

▪ Announcing teams: Nantz and Romo on the CBS-produced games, Tirico and Collinsworth on most of the NBC-produced games.

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