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The problem with the NFL on CBS

The NFL Today's Boomer Esiason during the Supe...

Boomer Esiason, part of CBS' 1980s brigade. Image via Wikipedia

One of our most popular posts this offseason has been our update on new and moved NFL announcers. And if you go through that post, you’ll notice that CBS has only one entry – Marv Albert replacing Gus Johnson as a play-by-play voice. CBS shuffled its pairings a bit, but the faces and voices are the same.

And that’s the problem with the NFL on CBS. The Eye network has remained so faithful to its announcers that its announcers are becoming irrelevant. As a result, CBS’s coverage sounds aged, spouting cliches and strategies of years gone by instead of the trends of the current day. And that’s because CBS’s analysts haven’t been in the league for years. None of the 12 analysts (studio and game) that CBS announced for 2011 has been in the NFL in the last four seasons. Only one – Bill Cowher – has been in the NFL within seven seasons. And CBS only has three analysts – Rich Gannon, Steve Beuerlein, and Shannon Sharpe – who played in the 2000s. (See below for more details.)

This isn’t the approach other networks take. Fox, for example, has added players like John Lynch, Chad Pennington, and Michael Strahan, as well as coaches like Brian Billick and Jim Mora to its NFL Sunday crew in recents years. The two dominant franchises of the 2000s – the Colts and Patriots – are represented by Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison on NBC’s Football Night in America. And ESPN and the NFL Network regularly add recently retired players who bring fresh insight and relevant anecdotes.

CBS, meanwhile, trots out the same old, same old from Dan Dierdorf – and features it on its No. 2 team. It relies on quarterbacks from the 1980s – Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason, and Phil Simms – as its stars. The age shows, as CBS game viewers settle for traditional, surface analysis far too often.

Will CBS ever have a changing of the guard among its analysts? Or do the veterans on the squad have lifetime contracts? Like the NFL itself, NFL announcers should have to fight off a new crop of rookies year after year. But at CBS, they don’t.

And until CBS gets its eye off the past when it comes to NFL announcers, its coverage won’t be anywhere close to what it needs to be.

The last year game analysts were in the NFL (as players or coaches)

CBS: Dan Marino 1999, Boomer Esiason 1997, Bill Cowher 2006, Shannon Sharpe 2003, Phil Simms 1993, Dan Dierdorf 1983, Dan Fouts 1987, Rich Gannon 2004, Solomon Wilcots 1992, Steve Tasker 1997, Steve Beuerlein 2003, Randy Cross 1988

FOX: Howie Long 1993, Terry Bradshaw 1983, Jimmy Johnson 1999, Michael Strahan 2007, Troy Aikman 2000, Daryl Johnston 1999, Tony Siragusa 2001, Brian Billick 2007, John Lynch 2007, Tim Ryan 1993, Jim Mora 2009, Chad Pennington 2010, Charles Davis DNP

NBC: Cris Collinsworth 1988, Tony Dungy 2008, Rodney Harrison 2008

NFL Network: Mike Mayock 1983, Marshall Faulk 2005, Steve Mariucci 2005, Warren Sapp 2007, Michael Irvin 1999, Kurt Warner 2009

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Chad Pennington moves to the booth

Miami Dolphins' Quarterback Chad Pennington si...

Chad Pennington. Image via Wikipedia

For the last two weeks, the day job had me at Wayfarer Camp, so I wasn’t able to keep up with NFL news. One of the items I missed was the fact that Chad Pennington is leaving the field – at least for a year – to move to the announcing booth with Fox. Below are some thoughts on the move; you can see how Pennington’s addition compares to other announcing moves in this updated post.

Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on what was Fox’s No. 5 team last year. It’s actually a pretty plum gig for Pennington – he leaps over recent retirees Trent Green, John Lynch, and Kurt Warner on Fox’s depth chart, falling below only Brian Billick and Jim Mora among recent additions. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. It’s unclear at this point whether Tim Ryan, Rosen’s former partner, will return to Fox. With Charles Davis moving to college games, Ryan could join the three-man booth with analyst Jim Mora. But Fox would be wise to keep Ryan, who isn’t a high profile name but who has consistently provided great analysis in his nine years with the network.

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FR: New and moved announcers for 2011

Each year, we compare the national TV announcers that enter the NFL business or find new gigs. We will do this using our Football Relativty scale, with 10 being the moves we like best, and 1 being the move that matters least. We’ll add to this comparison as more moves are announced.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock, via blog.49ers.com

10 – Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler, NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football – Once again, the NFL Network revamped its announcing duo, but this time the network got it right. Mayock is NFLN’s franchise player as a draft analyst, and he proved his game analyst chops last year doing Notre Dame games on NBC. Mayock then went on to do one NFL game, the playoff game between the Saints and Seahawks, and his serious approach and insight into game strategy and trends was enlightening. He’ll be a massive improvement over ex-NFLN analysts Joe Theismann, who tends to be a blowhard and falls victim to a disturbing inattention to detail, and Matt Millen, a good analyst who tended to be brought down by Theismann’s act. Mayock works with Brad Nessler, a play-by-play vet who has done mostly college football for ESPN (among other sports) but has had a couple of NFL cameos on the opening-week Monday night doubleheaders. Nessler has a more authoritative voice than former play-by-play man Bob Papa, who merited staying over but won’t get the chance. Still, the Nessler/Mayock pairing feels like a big-time booth, which is something the NFLN has never hit on because of massive weak spots like Theismann or, before him, Bryant Gumbel.

9 – Kurt Warner, NFL Network – Warner, who called a few lower-level games for Fox last season, is moving to NFL Network full time to be a part of GameDay Morning each Sunday, as well as the network’s pre- and post-game for Thursday night games. That job fits Warner better than game analyst, because it will allow him to speak to macro issues and express his thoughtfulness. Plus, Warner adds a new dimension to a pre-game show that doesn’t have a quarterback on it right now. Warner should become a long-time fixture on NFLN, and he gives the network a fourth Hall of Fame caliber player with Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin (both already in) and Warren Sapp. It looks to be a great fit.

9 (con’t) – Bill Parcells, ESPN – Parcells has bounced between the NFL and broadcasting for nearly two decades now, and he’s proven that he’s an excellent analyst. Now he joins ESPN and jumps onto the Sunday NFL Countdown show. He’ll immediately become a key contributor, because his keen eye for talent and presentation makes him more valuable than fellow ex-coach Mike Ditka. Parcells will also get a draft confidential special and a Super Bowl confidential special, and he’s proven that such shows can be the equivalent of Jon Gruden’s QB camp in terms of insight. Parcells is a TV star, and he’ll be a huge asset to ESPN’s pregame show lineup.

8 – Marv Albert, CBS – Albert is best known for being the voice of the NBA for NBC, TNT, and also the Knicks and Nets, but he has a long legacy of calling NFL games. For nearly two decades, Albert was an NBC play-by-play announcer, spending most of them in the high-profile No. 2 position for the network. But his high-profile personal issues cost him that job in 1997. Albert returned to calling NFL games for Westwood One’s Monday Night Football and playoff radio broadcasts in 2002, and he has called 10 Super Bowls for that network. Now Albert returns to the NFL with CBS, whom he first worked for after the network teamed with TNT to broadcast the NCAA tournament this spring. Albert has a big-time and distinctive voice, and his long history calling games will immediately add depth to the CBS bench. The question is whether Albert will slip into the CBS lineup in Gus Johnson’s former No. 5 spot, or whether he’ll jump a younger voice like Kevin Harlan or Ian Eagle. Given how old CBS’s game-calling crews are as a whole, moving Albert up too high would be a mistake. CBS needs to develop and feature younger voices like Eagle and Spero Dedes more prominently. But if Albert  stays in a mid-tier role, he’s certainly as good as a replacement for Johnson as was available.

7 – none

6 – Chad Pennington, Fox – Pennington, an 11-year veteran quarterback, never had great physical gifts, but he combined adequate arm strength with exceptional intelligence, instincts, and guile to become a first-round draft pick and a multi-year starter with the Jets. But injuries have sapped what little arm strength Pennington had, and so instead of fighting for a job in Miami or elsewhere, he’s going to take at least a year off to move to the NFL on Fox team. Pennington will be paired with Sam Rosen on Fox’s seventh team. Pennington’s New York experience and savvy are two promising signs; now he must live up to his broadcast potential. If he does, he adds more depth and recent experience to a Fox lineup that is light years younger and therefore significantly better than CBS’s slate. Rosen’s old teammate, Tim Ryan, is now with Chris Myers on the No. 5 team as Fox shuffles its lineup.

6 (con’t) – Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, Fox – Gus Johnson has become the internet’s favorite announcer with his emphatic and enthusiastic style. Despite his popularity, though, Johnson’s 15 years at CBS never featured him moving up the ladder all that much. He was always fighting to be on a top-four team for CBS’s NCAA basketball tournament coverage, and Johnson worked with Steve Tasker on CBS’s No. 5 NFL team. Maybe it was too many Bills or Jaguars or Bengals games for Johnson – even though he called crazy plays like this year’s Jaguars Hail Mary or the crazy Brandon Stokely touchdown in 2009’s Week One. Now Johnson moves to Fox, where he will team with Charles Davis to become the network’s top college football voice. Davis, who called BCS games for Fox as well as working on the network’s No. 3 team for the NFL the past two seasons, isn’t flashy, but he’s a terrific analyst who will be a nice counterbalance to Johnson’s enthusiasm (much like Len Elmore has been during March Madness). Johnson and Davis will spend most of 2011 on FX, the Big Ten Network, and other lesser networks, but starting in 2012 they will be the featured voices for Fox’s Pac-12 coverage. They’ll also draw Big 10 and Pac-12 championship games in football and Pac-12 basketball tournaments. That means Johnson and Davis will see less NFL action, filling in on eight-game weeks for Fox. On CBS youngster Spero Dedes could step into the regular rotation as a play-by-play guy. Johnson and Davis spending most of their time on campus is the NFL’s loss, but it’s probably a good career move.

5 – Jerry Rice, ESPN – ESPn hired Rice, perhaps the greatest player ever, to serve as an analyst for NFL Live, SportsCenter, and the Thursday night Audibles show. It’s an interesting move. Rice is one of the best players ever, but can he translate his expertise into succinct analysis? Many have tried and failed. Still, it’s worth the gamble for ESPN to add someone with Rice’s pedigree. If he works out, it’s a coup; if he doesn’t, he’s still Jerry Rice, which counts for something for the viewer. And since ESPN is easing him in, Rice will have the best opportunity to succeed.

4 – Hugh Douglas, ESPN – Since his retirement in 2004, the former pass-rush specialist has been an engaging and sometimes controversial commentator in the Philadelphia market. Now he moves to the national scene, joining ESPN as a studio analyst who’ll be used on SportsCenter, NFL Live, First Take, ESPN News, and other platforms. It’s not ESPN’s glamour job, but Douglas should get plenty of air time in the role. He’ll definitely make an impression, and his willingness to call out players and coaches will make him memorable. Don’t be surprised if Douglas earns a promotion at ESPN before too long.

4 – Josina Anderson, ESPN – Anderson made a splash as a reporter for the Fox affiliate in Denver, consistently breaking national stories from a local beat. That’s not easy to do, and it led her to a correspondent role on Showtime’s Inside the NFL. Now she moves to ESPN, where she’ll be an NFL reporter with chops. This is a deserved call-up to the national scene.

3 – Eric Mangini, ESPN – Mangini also joins the World Wide Leader as a studio analyst. He worked for ESPN during last year’s playoff run, bringing insight to the Jets/Patriots matchup since he is a Bill Belichick disciple and a former Jets head coach. We’re always all for hiring recently fired coaches, because they see the league in ways few others can. The question is whether Mangini can take that knowledge and communicate it in a way that fans understand and enjoy. Mangini won’t have the big personality of other former coaches turned broadcasters like Herman Edwards or Brian Billick, but like a Jim Mora, he should be able to make some keen insights. It’s a nice addition for ESPN.

3 (con’t) – Damien Woody, ESPN – Woody, who retired this offseason, also latches on with ESPN as an NFL studio analyst. The fact that Woody played all across the offensive line will add to his credibility, and being in the league up through last year helps as well. But Woody must establish his personality pretty quickly so that he’s not lost in the forest of ESPN’s uber-deep analyst roster (which did trim Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn).

3 (con’t) – Heath Evans, NFL Network – Evans retired during training camp and landed with NFL Network. He has experience playing for both the Saints and Patriots, which means he should bring good insight to two of this year’s contenders. He also has an outspoken personality that should help him make a mark. While he wasn’t a big name as a player, Evans has a nice future in television.

2 – Rodney Harrison, NFL Network – Harrison isn’t leaving his high-profile studio job at NBC; he’s merely adding midweek responsibilities with NFL Network. From our perspective, that’s a great thing – we always want to see more of Harrison.

1 – Michelle Tafoya, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – Tafoya has long been a fixture as a sideline reporter, most recently with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Now she moves to Sunday nights to work with the crew that she did MNF with back in 2004-05. Tafoya is a professional, and she adds good information on the sidelines without devolving into the prepackaged stories that so many other sideliners do. As MNF lessened the duties of its sideline reporters, it makes sense for Tafoya to find a more prominent role. It’s unclear at this point whether Tafoya is joining or replacing current SNF sideliner Andrea Kramer.

1 (con’t) – Alex Flanagan, NFL Network – Flanagan replaces Tafoya as the sideline reporter on NFL Network’s Thursday night games. Flanagan has proven to be a terrific sideliner doing NBC Notre Dame games, as well an NBC playoff game last year, and she’s also a NFL Network host. That makes her a perfect fit for an enhanced role.

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Classic corners: Bailey, Barber stick around

Champ Bailey

Champ Bailey. Image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

In what should be a slow time for re-signings, two star cornerbacks inked returns to their teams yesterday. Ronde Barber will return for his 15th season in Tampa Bay, and Champ Bailey signed a four-year deal to remain with the Broncos. Below are some thoughts on both moves and the legacies both players are leaving.

In Denver, Bailey is still an elite cover corner, and the Broncos prioritized his return. Now the two sides have a four-year deal potentially worth $43 million that will keep Bailey around. Bailey may not quite be at the level of the current top cover men like Nnamdi Asomugha and Darrelle Revis, but he’s still in the shutdown corner category. That’s impressive considering he’s got 12 years behind him in his NFL career. For the Broncos, Bailey’s return means there’s one less question to answer as they try to rebuild a defense that was horrific last year. And while Bailey isn’t a long-term answer at age 33, the 10-time Pro Bowler can provide performance and stability over the short term while the Broncos find solutions elsewhere. The future Hall of Famer – and we don’t throw that term around lightly – has a chance to add to his impressive resume.

In Tampa Bay, Barber isn’t the big star that Bailey (or even his twin brother Tiki) has been, but in his 15-year career he has been perhaps the best cover-2 cornerback in the league. He’s now the lone holdover from the historic Bucs defenses of the early part of the decade (now that Warren Sapp, John Lynch, and Derrick Brooks have moved into broadcast booths and studios), but he still plays well enough to be a solid starter on a young team. The Bucs have developed Aqib Talib into a top-quality corner, so Barber doesn’t have to carry the load, and his skills actually will work well in the slot if the Bucs want to use a younger, faster player outside going forward and feature Barber as a blitzer as well as a cover man. Barber isn’t the sure-fire Hall of Famer that Bailey is, but he will be in the Canton conversation, and his Tampa Bay-only career will make him a legend for the Bucs for a long time to come.

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FR: New and moved NFL announcers for ’09

There’s been quite a bit of turnover on the NFL announcing scheme for the 2009 season. Among the changes:

*Fox is adding John Lynch (No. 6 team), Trent Green (No. 7 team), and Charles Davis (No. 3 team) as full-time game analysts, replacing Brian Baldinger, Tony Boselli, and J.C. Pearson
*NBC is adding Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison to Football Night in America, replacing Jerome Bettis and Cris Collinsworth
*Collinsworth moves to NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth to replace John Madden
*ESPN’s Monday Night Football replaced Tony Kornheiser with Jon Gruden
*NFL Network replaces Collinsworth for its late-season games with Matt Millen
*Info man Adam Schefter moves from NFL Network to ESPN
*Former Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi, ex-Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks, and former WR Drew Bennett join ESPN as studio analysts
*Former Rams head coach Mike Martz, Hall of Fame WR Michael Irvin, and info man Jason La Canfora join NFL Network

So how do these new voices (in new roles) compare to each other? Sounds like a relativity comparison to me. 10 is the guy whom we think will be best in his new role; 1 is for the guy who we anticipate struggling the most.

10 – Cris Collinsworth, NBC’s Sunday Night Football – We’ve already written about how Collinsworth is the best game analyst around. Now he’ll get to strut his stuff not on NFL Network’s limited platform but on the marquee stage of Sunday Night Football. He’s more than ready and more than able to become the league’s most authoritative announcing voice.

9 – Charles Davis, Fox – Davis was a no-name before Fox started using him as the color announcer for the BCS national championship game a few years ago, but he’s incredibly good. With Fox soon losing the BCS, it makes sense for them to move Davis onto their NFL roster. He’s going to be on the No. 3 team, which is a huge complement to his ability. The only strange thing is that Davis never made it in the NFL, and so he’ll be commenting on something outside of his experience. But he’s so polished that it won’t end up mattering in the end.

8 – Rodney Harrison, NBC’s Football Night in America – Harrison is a straight shooter who isn’t afraid to step on anyone’s toes (and actually might enjoy doing so). He’ll bring an edge to a show that was bland last year with the always-jovial Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber, who has TV teeth but the charisma of a carp. (OK, that’s mean. Sorry.) Harrison and Tony Dungy will be an interesting counterbalance as analysts.

7 – Adam Schefter, ESPN – A long time ago, Schefter was the Broncos’ correspondent for PFW, and I spoke to him weekly. (Random fact: He’s the reason I know what gefilte fish is. As Terrell Davis put it in a column Schefter wrote for PFW, it’s the hot dogs of fish. Just try to forget that.) Schefter definitely knows his stuff and has great sources. The only question is whether he’ll get lost in the shuffle among ESPN’s other info men Chris Mortensen, John Clayton, Ed Werder, and whoever else comes across the crawl.

6 – none

5 – Jon Gruden, ESPN’s Monday Night Football – My initial thoughts about Gruden’s hiring were positive, but the question of what Gruden’s style is going to be still lingers in my head. If he’s honest and direct, he’ll be great. But if he’s out to avoid making enemies so that he can land his next coaching job, he’ll end up being disappointing. For some reason, I’m getting a hunch that the latter may be true. I guess we’ll see.

4 – Tony Dungy, NBC’s Football Night in America – Dungy is respected, and he definitely knows his stuff. I only wonder if he has enough energy to jump off the TV screen. Maybe Dungy’s likability will translate, and if it does NBC will really have something with him and Harrison. But if Dungy comes across as bland, then it won’t really work.

4 (con’t) –  Trent Green, Fox – Green has shown a lot of promise as an announcer in his offseason studio appearances, but you never know how that will translate into game announcing. I’m a little afraid that Green will end up like Rich Gannon, who had similar promise right after retirement but hasn’t really been spectacular as an announcer. For now, we’ll give Green the benefit of the doubt and take a listen, but to excel he’ll have to translate his knowledge of the game and likability into the short bursts he’ll speak between plays. The fact that Green can ease in on Fox’s No. 7 team helps; if he’s good, he should be able to move up some. But Fox has new depth with Davis and Brian Billick emerging the last two years as supersolid No. 3 and No. 4 guys.

4 (con’t) – Michael Irvin, NFL Network postgame – Irvin was a bust as an ESPN analyst because his aggressive bluster was too often baseless or just silly. But he’s improved over the past few years on his radio show in Dallas, and he may be ready once again for a studio shot on NFL Network’s postgame coverage. Perhaps the discipline of having to defend himself to sports-radio callers will make Irvin defend his points better and turn his bluster into opinions that are still strong but more defendable. If so, he can be a big plus for the league-owned outlet.

3 – Matt Millen, NFL Network – Millen, who will also be a college football game analyst and studio analyst for ESPN, was once the best Xs and Os analyst on television. When I covered the Panthers, I would make sure to tape games Millen was doing so that I could hear his analysis of the team. He was that good. But the question is whether viewers will be able to forget his stinkbomb of a tenure as Detroit’s GM and take him seriously. That will definitely be a barrier in year one, but hopefully Millen’s broadcasting prowess will repair the perception he has at large.

3 (con’t) – Tedy Bruschi, ESPN studio shows – Bruschi, who played in four Super Bowls and won three as a linebacker in New England over 13 years, is staying in the region by landing at ESPN as a studio analyst for its various midweek shows. Bruschi will bring a current knowledge of the league and an inside knowledge of its most inscrutable team, the Patriots, which are both assets. But for Bruschi to thrive, he’s going to have show the personality of recent ESPN hire Marcellus Wiley or the no-holds-barred criticism of ESPN’s Trent Dilfer and Steve Young. If he’s just another talking head, he won’t stand out on a massive roster of analysts, and that’s a recipe for a short tenure.

3 (con’t) – Derrick Brooks, ESPN – Brooks still wants to play, but until he finds a fit on the field he’s landed at ESPN. Brooks will start out on ESPN2’s First Take, filling a role that Jamal Anderson, Kordell Stewart, Lomas Brown, and Ray Buchanan have had in the past. Brooks is smart, and his recent playing experience will lead to good insights and stories, but he’ll have to turn his likability into humor and chatter if he’s going to succeed in the morning-showish First Take model. Brooks probably will work better in the NFL Live/SportsCenter type of shows eventually, but you get the sense that ESPN wanted to add him where it could when he was available.

2 – John Lynch, Fox – This ranking isn’t really a slam against Lynch – it’s more of an indication of how strong the other new announcers are, as well as the prominent roles they have. Lynch will be on Fox’s No. 6 team, so he has a chance to do some games and make a name for himself. I didn’t hear Lynch in his cameos last year, so for now I can only hope that he has some upside.

2 (con’t) – Jason La Canfora, NFL Network studio shows – La Canfora, a former Washington Post reporter, takes Adam Schefter’s old spot as the NFL Network’s insider. He has big shoes to fill, because Schefter is aggressive and connected, and there’s no way that La Canfora can jump into the role immediately at the same level as Schefter.

2 (con’t) – Drew Bennett, ESPN studio shows – Bennett, who had success as a wideout in Tennessee before flaming out as a high-dollar free agent in St. Louis, retired after a one-day stop in Baltimore in training camp this year. He doesn’t have the star power or the Q rating that ESPN’s other studio additions, Tedy Bruschi and Derrick Brooks, have, and so Bennett will have to do more to make an impact on the airwaves. It’s possible – just ask Tim Hasselbeck – but it’s an uphill climb in the most crowded analyst environment in the media.

1 – Mike Martz, NFL Network’s Total Access – Martz established a reputation as an offensive guru from his time with the Rams before less successful tenures as a coordinator in Detroit and San Francisco. He now leaves the coaching ranks and joins NFL Network’s studio show on Thursday and Friday nights. Martz certainly knows his stuff, but I question two things about him as a broadcaster. First, can he present his knowledge in a palatable form? And second, will his prickly personality make him seem like a know-it-all? Maybe he’ll be a revelation, but I just can’t see him as an identifiable breakout broadcaster.

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