It's unclear whether Ryan Fitzpatrick intends to play football in 2021 or beyond. John Clayton became the first noted NFL reporter to suggest he won't, writing it, "looks like he's going to retire" in a story published earlier this week.
That doesn't mean Fitzpatrick is going to retire, especially with so many teams in need of quarterbacks this offseason and the free agent list short and undistinguished. But if Fitzpatrick does wind up retiring, ESPN should be the first organization to call his agent and offer him a job.
Before the 2020 season, we ranked Fitzpatrick as the third-best quarterback in the NFL based on broadcasting potential behind only Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. The reasoning was simple: Fitzpatrick is smart (went to Harvard, as if you don't know), has a memorable nickname (Fitzmagic), a recognizable beard and is almost universally loved by NFL fans.
Nothing changed last season. If anything, Fitzpatrick enhanced his standing, handling his benching in favor of rookie Tua Tagovailoa with class and then authoring another Fitzmagic moment with a stunning fourth-quarter comeback against the Raiders in relief of Tagovailoa in Week 16.
That's exactly the person ESPN needs to lead its NFL coverage moving forward.
ESPN is among the networks reportedly close to signing a broadcasting rights extension deal with the NFL. The network will continue to broadcast Monday Night Football as part of the deal with some games simulcast on ABC, which will also be added to the Super Bowl broadcast rotation in the future. That's an important viewership/publicity opportunity for the company and it will need a recognizable booth to take advantage.
Last year, ESPN rolled out its third new broadcast booth for MNF in three years. Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese had a good showing in their debut together, providing clear analysis and, more importantly, avoiding past MNF miscues like the Booger Mobile, or making Jason Witten lead analyst.
If there is a critique of the new MNF booth it's that Riddick and Griese sound a bit too similar and the team didn't create the kind of buzz Tony Romo and Jim Nantz do for CBS and Troy Aikman and Joe Buck do on FOX. NBC's team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth would also rank above the ESPN booth, though Collinsworth had his own issues this year.
We know ESPN has struck out trying to lure big-names to lead the Monday Night Football broadcast in the past. They've been turned down by Peyton Manning, couldn't get Romo to leave CBS this past offseason and even attempted a trade to acquire Michaels. Most recently, they've been linked a potential landing spot for Nantz if he leaves CBS when his contract ends.
Instead of those ideas, why not sign Fitzpatrick and groom him to be your lead analyst moving forward? Levy, Riddick and Griese deserve another year together and ESPN likely wouldn't be able to replace them with a better booth even if they wanted to. While ESPN's No. 1 college broadcast team of Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler have also expressed interest in the MNF job and were good in spot duty in 2020, it makes more sense for ESPN to keep them on the college beat where the networks has also invested heavily.
That scenario affords Fitzpatrick time to hone his craft in studio on Sunday NFL Countdown. He could also call Monday Night Football in Week 1 for ESPN's opening-week doubleheader.
We know Fitzpatrick's knowledge of the game is deep having played quarterback in the league for 16 seasons and we know he's an articulate public speaker from all of his entertaining postgame interviews. He's got the interesting anecdotes needed to entertain audiences and he has a memorable look thanks to his bushy beard. That's a broadcast company's dream.
It's still unclear whether Fitzpatrick is going to retire and it's unclear whether he would want to join the broadcasting world after he's done playing. But if he is calling it quits, ESPN should be the first organization to call him up and offer him a job. He has everything they need to be their lead analyst and, as he did as a player, would likely create some more Fitzmagic in the booth if given the chance.