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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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FR: NFL game announcers

With apologies to the great Dr. Z, who for years did a far better version of this, I thought I’d put the NFL announcers on the relativity scale. 10 is the best, 1 is the worst.

I also omitted several teams that I just didn’t hear this year, because I didn’t use Dr. Z’s 4-VCR system. Those teams included: Solomon Wilcots/Ian Eagle; Steve Tasker/Gus Johnson; John Lynch/Chris Rose; any of the NFL network teams.

10- Cris Collinsworth/Al Michaels or Tom Hammond, NBC – He is the gold standard of announcers today. Interesting in the studio or in his occasional on-game appearances. What separates him is that he’s not afraid to criticize players, which isn’t always the case with other announcers. He’ll be a worthy successor to John Madden when Madden steps down.

9-  Brian Billick/Thom Brennaman, Fox – (Billick also worked with Brian Baldinger and Dick Stockton in a 3-man booth at times.) Back when I was at PFW, Billick was the gold standard of assistant coach interviews, because he knew what he was talking about and he was interesting as he talked. Nothing has changed in 10 years. This guy is great in the booth. He explains things thoroughly but in an approachable manner. Plus, he has at least a little bit of an edge. I wish he had been in the booth with Troy Aikman for Fox’s playoff games, because he would have added an extra something that Fox hasn’t had since Collinsworth was in that booth.

8 –  John Madden, Al Michaels, NBC – I’ve been down on Madden in recent years, but I thought he took a step back up this season. He still sees things on first glance that most analysts don’t see until the replay. And his excitement at the end of the Super Bowl showed that he still loves the game. Madden still veers into being a caricature of himself at times, but when he’s on the game he’s still one of the best.

7-Troy Aikman/Joe Buck, Fox – While many on the internet are anti-Buck, I’m in the pro camp. He gets a little preachy at times, and he can be too storyline driven, but he’s very willing to be combative in the booth, and his smarmy sense of humor works for me. He has big game chops, too. Aikman would be best in a 3-man booth, because his personality still comes off kind of bland at times. But Aikman makes decent points and has credibility. The bottom line is that I’d rather a big game be on Fox than CBS, which means these guys are on a level above the Simms/Nantz crew.

6- Brian Baldinger/Dick Stockton, Fox (sometimes with Brian Billick) – Baldinger is a solid broadcaster who seems to see just a bit more than the typical announcer, and because of that he’s overcome an obscure profile as a player to move up to Fox’s No. 3 team. This team knows how to handle a good game, even though Stockton isn’t as precise as I would prefer. When Billick joined this team, it took things to a whole other level. Were Fox to take my advice, they’d put Baldinger and Billick with Kenny Albert on its No. 2 team and move the Moose and Goose combination down to No. 3.

5- Phil Simms/Jim Nantz, CBS – I don’t know why, but this team just doesn’t do it for me. Simms seems to be kind of a master of the obvious at times, and Nantz tries to figure things out, out loud and then comes off like he thinks he’s a genius when he does. They had great games to broadcast this year, but this team just didn’t convey the emotional feel of the big game with their words or tones. It’s time for CBS to do better with its No. 1 team.

5 (con’t) Ron Jaworski/Tony Kornheiser/Mike Tirico, ESPN – I want to like this team; I really do. But this team doesn’t reach the like level for me. Maybe it’s the over-saturation of Jaworski, who’s on PTI weekly, on ESPN radio multiple times weekly, and more. I know Jaws does as much prep as any analyst, but he comes across as condescending at times. Plus, given his amount of research, he spends a lot of time stating the obvious. I admire Jaworski’s work, but I don’t like it. Kornheiser doesn’t add much to the team. I like the idea of having someone on a team to bring humor and ask questions about what’s going on, but the niche just isn’t defined enough for Kornheiser to truly be an asset to this group. I think this trio can work, but for it to do so, Kornhesier’s role must be clearer from the outset, and Jaws must hold back a little during the week so he has his best stuff on Mondays.

5 (con’t) – Tim Ryan/Sam Rosen. I’ve always thought Rosen was one of the underrated NFL play-by-play guys, and Ryan is serviceable. This team doesn’t get the prime games, but it does a decent job with the games it has.  Teams like this are why Fox has a lot more announcing depth than CBS does.

4 – Daryl Johnston/Tony Siragusa/Kenny Albert, Fox – I really want this team to work, because I like the innovative approach of having one analyst in the booth and one on the field. But this Moose and Goose combination isn’t clicking on all cylinders. Unfortunately, Siragusa (who is on the sidelines) too often tries to simply be funny instead of bringing insights. Johnston, like his ex-teammate Aikman, tends toward the bland side at times as well. I believe a similar-shaped team with a different former lineman (such as Mark Schlereth or Mike Golic) on the field and someone like Billick in the booth would work. But the concept just isn’t working that well as it stands here. Fox does get credit for putting Albert here on its No. 2 team instead of Stockton.

4 (con’t) -Randy Cross/Dan Fouts/Dick Enberg, CBS – This was a weird team to listen to. I don’t think Cross brings much beyond ordinary to a game, and Fouts is occasionally OK but rarely better than that. The problem was that they sound a lot alike, and so it was hard to distinguish who was talking when. It was just a strange combo that didn’t meld.  A nice try by CBS to do something different (which I’m all for), but ultimately it didn’t really work.

4 (con’t) – Tony Boselli/Ron Pitts, Fox – This is another decent but not great Fox team that doesn’t add a ton but doesn’t take anything away from a game either. Pitts is a former player who was better as an analyst than he is on play-by-play. That’s the only reason this team falls below the Ryan/Rosen duo.

4 (con’t) – Steve Beuerlein/Bill Macatee, CBS – I wanted to give a shoutout to Beuerlein, whom I covered when he was with the Panthers. For falling where he does on CBS’s food chain, Beuerlein does a nice job. In fact, I would propose that he and Rich Gannon should probably switch spots in the CBS hierarchy. Beuerlein also does college games for CBS well.

3 – J.C. Pearson/Matt Vasgersian, Fox – I like Vasgersian, but Pearson isn’t quite at the level as Tim Ryan or some of the other Fox announcers.  I do like the fact that Fox has given some guys who didn’t have major NFL profiles a chance, but Pearson is the one person on the roster who could pretty easily be replaced. Still, he’s better than some of the options CBS has given a mic to.

2- Rich Gannon/Kevin Harlan, CBS – This ranking pains me because I’m a Kevin Harlan fan (I wish he or Gus Johnson did the Final 4 instead of Jim Nantz), but Rich Gannon just doesn’t add a lot to a broadcast to me. He makes simple, obvious points but not much more. Gannon was thought of as a potential broadcasting star when he entered the game a couple of years back, but it seems that star has dimmed, and he’s destined to be little more than a mid-level game announcer. That’s frankly about right given his performance.

1- Dan Dierdorf/Greg Gumbel, CBS – Dierdorf is still a broadcasting star, but it’s been many years since he was on Monday Night Football, and he’s lost his fastball. He loves making grand pronouncements about the simplest things, and all that pontificating gets old fast. It’s hard to make it through a 3-hour game listening to Dierdorf anymore. If he wants to stay in the game, he needs to move down the ladder instead of taking up space as CBS’ No. 2 color guy.

To conclude, a few overarching thoughts: CBS needs to do better with its roster of announcers. It’s No.1  team just isn’t special, and its No. 2 and 3 teams have guys (Dierdorf, Cross) who to be honest have passed their prime. Plus, the No. 4 team depends on Gannon, who hasn’t delivered on his potential. Fox’s No. 2 team is lacking, but its top team is basically working, and it found a superstar in Billick this year. Also, Fox’s 3-4-5 teams all bring something to the table, and if John Lynch delivers next year, they will have tremendous depth. Sunday Night Football is getting it right, while Monday Night Football needs some work. And the NFL network should be thanking its lucky stars that Collinsworth likes working so much, because he adds instant credibility to those broadcasts.

Let me know what you think by leaving  a comment. And do you want to see a studio analyst relativity piece? That’ll have to come by popular demand…

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