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NBC Sports is deep into negotiations to keep Cris Collinsworth at its lead “Sunday Night Football” analyst until 2025, while Troy Aikman could try to position himself for “Tony Romo money,” The Post has learned.
It is all part of the fallout from CBS signing Romo to the largest contract in sportscasting history, a 10-year, $180 million deal that reverberates through all top-level sports TV analyst negotiations. While rival TV executives view Romo’s deal — signed in the winter of 2020, just prior to the pandemic’s emerging impact — as an outlandish anomaly, Romo’s fellow No. 1 NFL game analysts look it as a benchmark.
It clouds all negotiations and it has created the possibility that Aikman could try to once again top Romo.
While Aikman was the more accomplished Cowboys quarterback with rings and gold jackets to prove it, Romo has surpassed Aikman with an $18 million a year TV deal that is around double what Aikman makes from Fox to call games on Thursdays and Sundays. (Romo even had last Sunday off after working Thanksgiving.)
While Aikman has been calling games for more than two decades, Romo is a virtual neophyte, just in his fifth season.
Aikman could have an avenue to surpass Romo in total salary, but he may have to work twice as hard to do it by taking a second gig with Amazon Prime Video.
There are questions if he could do it — or if he would want to do it. TV executives balked at the idea that any analyst could do 35-40 games as opposed to the 20-25 games.
Aikman has a year left on his deal after this season and Fox is expected to offer him a bump to stay full-time. Fox will not pay Aikman “Romo money” on its own.
Collinsworth and NBC are discussing a contract in the $12.5 million per season range, according to sources.
It’s not Romo money, but it is certainly not bad. Aikman could receive a similar payday if he exclusively worked a Fox schedule. Maybe Aikman will be satisfied with that outcome.
However, starting next year, Amazon Prime Video will take over the exclusive rights to “Thursday Night Football,” and the streaming platform will team with NBC Sports. The games will not appear on NBC, but Amazon will use NBC’s production.
“Sunday Night Football” producer Fred Gaudelli will oversee the main broadcast. The plan is for Al Michaels to be the play-by-player. Amazon has not yet finalized a deal with Michaels.
Michaels’ current contract ends after he calls the Super Bowl this February in his hometown of Los Angeles. He may not make a final decision until after that game. The only other possibility that could emerge is if ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” were to change its main booth again. Michaels has given no indications he wants to retire.
NBC’s plan is for Mike Tirico to replace Michaels as the full-time SNF play-by-player next year. To go a long with Amazon, Michaels, 77, will be offered a reduced role with NBC, doing select games, including one in the postseason.
On Sundays next season, Tirico will be joined by Collinsworth, not Drew Brees. NBC lured Brees over ESPN in a pursuit that occurred before Brees finished playing.
At this point, Brees is not replacing Collinsworth on games, and will continue on Sunday night’s pregame and Notre Dame football. Brees could be an alternative choice with Michaels for Amazon if Aikman, nor Collinsworth, happen.
In September, The Post reported that Aikman, Collinsworth and Brees were the leading candidates to team with Michaels. As was the case then, Amazon could see if a big name coach or current player shakes free.
With his new NBC deal, Collinsworth is potentially setting himself up to call NBC’s next Super Bowl in 2025. If Brees has designs on being a No. 1 NFL game analyst, at this point, he is going to have to wait.
Meanwhile, Fox and Aikman have a strong relationship again after it was damaged when the network hired TV opinionist Skip Bayless, whom Aikman has a known animus toward from Bayless’ days as a columnist and author in Dallas.
Fox currently has the rights to “Thursday Night Football,” which Aikman and Joe Buck call each week.
On the Sundays when Fox does not have the national late game, Aikman and Buck are off. On single-header days — which basically occur every other week — when Fox’s one main game goes to a significantly less part of the country, Aikman and Buck just do Thursdays.
Since Aikman is under contract to Fox for next year, he would have to come to Fox with an Amazon offer. Amazon could try to bring Aikman over exclusively or choose to share him with Fox.
There is the possibility that Fox could have him continue on his current schedule of only working the national late games with Buck. In that case, Aikman’s Fox pay would likely go down — he would not be doing Thursdays for Fox anymore — though in an Aikman-Fox-Amazon mashup scenario, Aikman still would likely be able to reach Romo’s neighborhood.
It may make corporate sense for Fox — less money to Aikman, but he would still do its biggest games — though on a weekly basis, it would have to juggle its top team pairings.
With Fox losing Thursday nights next year, the current plan is for it to have Buck and Aikman work every Sunday during the 2022-23 season, similarly to how CBS’ top crew of Romo and Jim Nantz do.
Fox wants to retain Aikman as its No. 1, but its No. 2 game analyst, rookie Greg Olsen, has received very nice reviews. Fox has the Super Bowl next year, making its lead analyst role a little more important. When Romo’s contract was up, CBS’ No. 2 was Dan Fouts, whom it did not look at as a potential replacement for Romo.
Nearly two years ago, Romo’s contract was a sports media earthquake. The tremors are still being felt.