Who Should Become the Next Monday Night Football Analyst?

NFL Hall of Famer, nose hair clipper spokesman, and noted sexual harasser Brett Favre recently had a chance to audition for the open Monday Night Football analyst chair, according to the New York Post. Favre and his understated persona didn’t exactly wow ESPN executives who reportedly gave the 48-year-old the don’t call us, we’ll call you treatment.

In less than four months, ESPN will broadcast its first Monday Night Football telecast of the post-Jon Gruden era (Gruden took his talents and Spider 2Y banana back to Oakland), and there are no superstar candidates primed
to be his successor. Heavily recruited Peyton Manning was the lone exception, but he already informed Fox that he wishes to remain a commercial god, not a broadcasting critic. (Wasn’t that Gruden’s EXACT playbook?)

MNF is at a fascinating fork in the road, especially at a time when the NFL seems to have devalued its relationship with ESPN. From undesirable MNF schedules in recent years to allowing Fox to be the third outlet providing live coverage of the NFL draft, the ESPN-NFL partnership is shaky at best. A utopian MNF analyst won’t change anything overnight but it could bring some respectability back to a holy grail booth that had recently lost its standing due to Gruden’s over-the-top positivity and lack of chemistry with Sean McDonough.  Either way, ESPN has the opportunity to cultivate a new analyst star to pair with new MNF play-by-play announcer, Joe Tessitore and simply modernize the booth.

As a former television and radio producer (full disclosure: mostly at ESPN), I care deeply about industry trends and comings and going and what makes media people tick and all that jazz. Upon hearing the Favre news and sighing at the tired formula of pursuing on field talent with no history of turning a phrase, I had an epiphany. I honestly believe I have an explosive potential Gruden replacement, someone who with some TV training would move the needle as much, if not more, than Tony Romo. Someone so compelling I would watch him discuss the history of dirt. But since I would put this wild-card’s interest level at “doubtful,” I will begin with 3 other names that are also intriguing replacements for America’s favorite fawning coach.

Mike Mayock

In a revealing Q&A with The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch this week, Mayock made his candidacy known: “I am highly frustrated and agitated that I cannot find a television gig in the fall to do games because that is the favorite thing I do.”

When Mayock was the analyst for Thursday Night Football a few years back, he was decent. He did not have cheesy catchphrases or bombastic quotes but deeply knows football and picked up on the nuances many others miss. Mayock has been mired in draft analysis in recent years and may be seen more as Mel Kiper than Cris Collinsworth these days. But Mayock’s unwavering passion for football and ability to sell the sport are his biggest assets.

Jay Cutler

Wait, don’t leave yet.

First let’s turn back the clock a year when Fox shockingly announced they were hiring Cutler to replace John Lynch. Cutler, always surly to the media, had showcased something in auditions that highly impressed Fox executives. Insiders tout Cutler’s smarts and dry sense of humor. Whatever these TV worthy trait are, we the football zeitgeist deserve to see them. (Of course we would have had Cutler not bailed on Fox to sign with Adam Gase’s Dolphins.)

Typically former quarterbacks are the safest analysts given their ability to break down the most important position. Everyone wants the next Romo and Cutler, for all of his personality quirks may be the closest available option.

Bonus: Social media might implode. Like really actually explode and cease to exist.

Louis Riddick

The versatile ESPN analyst is the second person on this list to lobby for an analyst gig in the last few months to Deitsch. But Riddick specifically wants MNF and explained his qualifications:

“I have no reservations about my ability to call a game live, to do it quickly and concisely, to not step on the toes of the person who is handling the play-by-play, to working a telestrator, to working an All-22 film video that you would have at your disposal in the booth, to giving quick anecdotes that would keep people informed, to understanding the rules of the game, to understanding the flow of the game,” Riddick said.

“That is me. That is who I am. You just have not seen that because I have not had that platform yet. I do not say this as someone who is trying to be a salesman of myself. .. This business is not about what you did as a player. This business is about what you can do as far as analyzing the game of football and communicating it to other people so that they can understand it.”

Riddick, a former safety who became a scout and pro player personnel before making a huge splash as an ESPN analyst, is certainly not lacking in confidence. He’s also not wrong. His analysis is consistently insightful and delivered with passion, backed by an off-the-charts football IQ. Riddick may not be a household name to the general MNF audience but his talent is undeniable and presence would be an immediate upgrade for those who actually care about football.

And now for my out-of-the-box pick….

Martellus Bennett

Bennett announced his retirement two weeks ago, expressing his plan to take over the world via his animation and design studio, Imagination Agency. He’s likely not pining for a broadcasting gig and could be an ill fit anyhow given his lack of experience, but the idea is incredibly intriguing.

ESPN executives may think of Bennett more for outspokenness – like this cartoon depicting the reality of the NFL – more than his ability to entertain, but they should look deeper.

Bennett’s brain is a marvel. No boring Martellus Bennett interview exists because he never holds back on any subject. Bennett is more known for his incredible story telling (like this beauty on Tom Brady) and off-the-cuff humor than his film breakdown. He’d certainly need to work on condensing though it’s not like he blathers on as is. And coming off ten seasons (including time logged with Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning) Bennett should be well equipped to handle the x’s and o’s side of things, as well as be up to date with the league’s ever-changing rulebook. But it’s the infusion of creativity and deep thought that would keep the audience engaged when it’s Jags 41 Titans 14 in the mid-4th quarter.

Bennett is not middle of the road when it comes to politics but he’s also not tethered to the polarizing anthem issue like his brother. While ESPN is trying to be apolitical, they could use a figure that inherently represents a different America than the one draped around MNF theme singer Hank Williams Jr, who once compared Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler.

Bennett isn’t so much about politics than he is simply about telling it like it is on any issue, be it football or life. He’d need to put the truth serum away on certain issues, like last week when he said 89% of NFL players smoke pot,  but could be incredibly enlightening on so much. He is especially prescient on issues that humanize players, a breath of fresh air in this era of fantasy and analytics.

Bennett is hardly the first name that comes to mind for a traditional booth analyst, which is exactly why ESPN should give him a call. Think about the incredible quotes that would come out of Bennett’s mouth. They could almost become their own column.