Al Michaels will be a media free agent in short order. Super Bowl LVI was the final game the longtime play-by-play broadcaster will call for NBC as his contract will expire later this year. NBC has Mike Tirico waiting in the wings to succeed Michaels as Cris Collinsworth's partner on Sunday Night Football broadcasts, while Michaels believes he's still got a few good years left in him in the booth and all reports suggest he doesn't plan to walk away quite yet.
As seen and heard on Sunday night, Michaels hasn't lost a step. At 77 years-old, he's still an excellent PBP broadcaster. He will be highly coveted both for his skills and his brand recognition; Michaels has been at the top of the game for so long even the most casual sports fan knows his voice.
Michaels won't be in the booth for the long haul but it appears he's guaranteed to stay in the game for at least one more season and possibly more. With NBC off the table, which rightsholding network will pursue Michaels? Here are three possible options.
Michaels has been linked to Amazon all season and it is easy to grasp why. Amazon Prime will exclusively broadcast Thursday Night Football starting in 2022 after splitting games with NFL Network and FOX over the last few years. Now that the rights are exclusive, Amazon is working on putting together their own broadcast booth and Michaels is their No. 1 target. The latest scuttlebutt brings an interesting addition to the situation; Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported last month that Michaels might want to bring Troy Aikman with him should he go to Amazon, which is great news for the company.
A Michaels-Aikman booth gives the network instant credibility and notoriety among the general viewing population while serving as a stronger draw for viewers to watch, given the TNF matchups are usually underwhelming. Amazon may want to look for a younger booth pairing to establish a long-term partnership, given they have these rights for the better part of the next decade, but regardless: this is the most natural fit for Michaels.
ESPN is the other company reported to have legitimate interest in Michaels. The four-letter network will preside over Monday Night Football for the next 11 years and will add more games to their slate as games are gradually siphoned from ABC and given to ESPN. That is primarily why they're interested in Michaels. They like their current MNF booth with Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, and Brian Griese. Michaels wouldn't be a replacement, but rather a 1B option to the 1A booth we watched this season.
ESPN's ideal outcome likely involves using Michaels as the big name while pairing him with some up-and-coming analysts who could play a larger role in MNF broadcasts going forward. It would mean a return to ESPN for Michaels, a nice homecoming story that everyone involved would enjoy. But all signs seem to point to Michaels sharing a lead role at most and taking on a secondary role at the very least. ESPN may not want to pay what Michaels wants for that, and Michaels may not want to step back quite yet.
FOX is included here not because it is an extremely likely landing spot for Michaels but because it's the only other option. NBC has made it clear they feel it's time to move on from Michaels to Tirico. CBS already has the most expensive broadcaster in history on their roster and have absolutely zero need to shell out more cash to bring Michaels aboard behind Jim Nantz. Amazon and ESPN are already listed. That leaves FOX, the final NFL rightsholding network.
It could happen. Joe Buck's fall seasons are always exceptionally busy with his World Series work. He's done double duty successfully for a long time and there's no reason to think he can no longer do so, but it sure sounds like it's a ton of work. Should Buck want to take a bit off his plate, using Michaels as a fill-in for the No. 1 booth with Aikman in the middle of the season while Buck and Aikman do their standard thing at the start and end of the year makes a certain modicum of sense. Then FOX has two of the biggest names in broadcasting to throw at viewers come playoff time. It's a lot of money to ship out, to be certain. But the NFL is where all the money comes from in the first place. Signing Michaels to spell Buck during the year and then pairing him with an up-and-coming analyst like Greg Olsen could pay great dividends if all parties involved buy into the program.