Trent Dilfer announced and ESPN confirmed that the former quarterback will return to the network’s NFL coverage this upcoming season. In addition to staying on Monday Night Football pre- and post-game, Dilfer will now commute to Bristol every week to be on the Sunday NFL Countdown panel.
While it’s technically accurate to say Dilfer never left ESPN – there was never a time where he was not under contract – this does not mean he was never leaving.
Kalyn Kahler of Peter King and Sports Illustrated’s MMQB broke the news, writing, “The internet rumors speculating the end of Trent Dilfer’s eight-year run at ESPN are unfounded.” Dilfer added, “A lot of stuff gets said that isn’t true.”
Weeks ago, Bob Raismann reported that Dilfer was “likely done” at ESPN; Richard Deitsch followed up, tweeting that Dilfer was “on his way out” and wrote in his column that reliable sources at ESPN said Dilfer was still there “but will likely head elsewhere.” (Yes, Deitsch and MMQB are both under the SI umbrella; it’s very strange that the latter–including Peter King himself–would incorrectly imply that previous Dilfer information was Online Rumor Mongering.)
Shortly before those initial public reports, we had already heard from sources with knowledge of the negotiations that Dilfer went to ESPN with what were perceived as outsized contract demands during a time of public budgetary constraints. When they responded that he would have to assume the additional responsibilities (that he’s ultimately now taken on), he stewed.
One person with knowledge at ESPN relayed that, at this point, Dilfer berated Seth Markman, the senior coordinating producer who oversees much of Bristol’s NFL coverage, and that this was seen as a point of no return in negotiations. Multiple other ESPN sources confirmed that there was an “uncomfortable” conversation between Dilfer and Markman, but they disagreed on the semantics of characterizing it as a tirade or berating. Whatever the case may be, all was not hunky dory when Raismann and Deitsch reported what they did.
In the interim, Dilfer had talks with Fox that failed to materialize, and now he returns to ESPN for extra work and what we have heard is substantially less pay than he was receiving in his last deal. Dilfer’s agent, David Dunn, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nevertheless, it is rare in sports media when you see news that a veteran analyst is exiting the company, and that not only doesn’t happen, but he returns in an expanded role. This can happen because Dilfer has been regarded by many at ESPN as a prepared and studied broadcaster. These shows function best when analysts get their points out quickly and play volleyball with their teammates. While (in my opinion) he can sometimes come across as overly self-assured, Dilfer fulfills his role in a way that facilitates others, and this is appreciated by his colleagues.