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Commentator Carousel: The Wild, Expensive Free Agency of NFL Announcers

From Buck and Aikman’s migration to Amazon’s Thursday night takeover, the 2022 NFL season will sound like none we’ve ever witnessed before.

You can call it the silly season. You can chalk it up to “market forces” (whatever that means). You can wonder out loud why football fans find it all so intriguing. But there’s just something about free agency this offseason.

No, not the one with Von Miller and Chris Godwin and almost Davante Adams. Forget the players entirely — we gotta talk about all the NFL announcers who changed teams this spring.

This is more than just a rearranging of deck chairs; the way in which fans consume their football has changed. And several networks paid absolutely eye-popping sums to make it happen.

It’s the end of an era at NBC and FOX. It’s yet another change for ESPN. And it’s a new frontier entirely at Amazon. Let’s explore everything you need to know about the biggest, most expensive free agency ever for NFL announcers.

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Al Michaels

Departs: NBC
Joins: Amazon
Role: Play-by-play commentator, Thursday Night Football

The Collinsworth Slide will never be the same.

Al Michaels, one of sports media’s most steadfast presences for more than four full decades, was a rumored target of ESPN’s before they opted to go in a different direction in replacing 2021 play-by-play man Steve Levy. Instead, the man who’s spent the past 15 years with NBC Sports as the voice of Sunday Night Football embarks on a new adventure with Amazon, whose exclusive Thursday night deal kicks in this season on Prime Video. We don’t know exactly how much Michaels will get, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports his deal is for three years and in the neighborhood of what Joe Buck will make. More on that below.

Things won’t feel totally foreign at Amazon — longtime SNF producer Fred Gaudelli is coming along, too.

Troy Aikman

Departs: FOX
Joins: ESPN
Role: Color commentator, Monday Night Football

It’s been a busy past few months for Troy Aikman. In addition to departing FOX to join ESPN’s Monday Night Football in what was effectively a package deal with longtime booth partner Joe Buck, the Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champ also found the time to start up his own beer company.

Marchand reports that Aikman’s deal with ESPN is worth $92.5 million over five years, putting him in line with what CBS pays No. 1 color commentator Tony Romo.

Kirk Herbstreit

Joins: Amazon
Role: Color commentator, Thursday Night Football

Count Kirk Herbstreit among those competing for the “Busiest Human Being in Sports Media” crown. Yes, he’s joining Amazon’s Thursday Night Football broadcasts opposite the legendary Michaels, but unlike his new partner, he’s not doing so at the expense of his former employer.

The longtime College GameDay co-host, primetime college football color guy, and NFL Draft analyst isn’t leaving ESPN. In fact, Mickey Mouse inked him to a three-year contract extension Wednesday.

Marchand reports that Amazon will pay him $10 million per year.

Joe Buck

Departs: FOX
Joins: ESPN
Role: Play-by-play commentator, Monday Night Football

The man synonymous with FOX’s Sunday “Game of the Week” and its MLB Postseason and World Series coverage alike has a new home, but he’s not about to mess with a good thing. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will remain a tandem, but they’ll do so on Monday nights starting this fall.

Marchand reported Buck’s deal with the Worldwide Leader to be five years and $75 million.

Other NFL Media Moves

  • Mike Tirico is widely expected to relocate from NBC’s SNF studio desk to the broadcast booth to replace Michaels as play-by-play man alongside Collinsworth.
  • Michele Tafoya departs as NBC’s lead sideline reporter for Sunday Night Football to serve as campaign co-chair for Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Kendall Qualls
  • Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina notes Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen are the most likely picks to take over Buck and Aikman’s respective play-by-play and color roles in FOX’s No. 1 booth.
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