Last month, after Jason Witten opted to leave the Monday Night Football, Pat McAfee launched a hashtag campaign for the masses to lobby ESPN to put the former Colts punter in the MNF booth. While being the third man in the booth alongside Joe Tessitore and Booger MacFarland may not be in the cards, we’ve heard that McAfee and ESPN have been in discussions for several months about various roles, including conceivably an offbeat sideline role on the flagship telecast (in addition to, not in replacement of Lisa Salters).
To be clear, we’re told that no signing is imminent and that McAfee might not ultimately land with ESPN. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment. Nevertheless, it is our opinion that if he were to join the Worldwide Leader it would be a fresh burst of energy for their football coverage, as a spontaneous and relatable presence. A clue that this is something that is being considered is that he has appeared on Get Up multiple times.
Both of us have made clear in the past that we think football coverage is oversaturated with former players and coaches. Good Morning Football, which ESPN2 is simulcasting today and tomorrow, is arguably the most enjoyable football studio show. It is not a coincidence that it features three personalities who did not play the game, no coaches, and a former player in Nate Burleson who a) was not a Hall of Famer, and b) is widely regarded as someone who is serious about connecting with the audience.
While McAfee is most certainly a former player, he approaches his commentary at least as much from a fan’s perspective. If he is on game coverage with a live mic, football fans especially in middle America would want to hear what he’ll come up with next, and if he’s in the studio, he’d be a refreshing break from formulaic cliches. The audience craves people on television who self-evidently love the sports they are talking about, and McAfee fits that bill.
The one potential pitfall is that if he landed at ESPN, or any other major network (for example, he was color commentator for a Lions-Packers game on Fox last year), he would have to tolerate a degree of management. By his own telling, McAfee decided to leave the Colts over issues he had with former GM Ryan Grigson, he left Barstool after feeling disrespected by business people in the building, and he nearly abruptly left WWE on WrestleMania day after Michael Cole yelled at him for wearing shorts with a tux (a look Vince McMahon approved of considering LeBron has done with it, which salvaged the relationship).
Nevertheless, these are only issues if McAfee perceives he is being treated with disrespect, and he brings a level of infectious enthusiasm to broadcasting that is not easily replicated. He’d be an asset for ESPN if a deal were to get done.