In early 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, rumors began to swirl around the sports media scene about a potential blockbuster trade.
No, the rumor didn’t involve an NFL star during football’s offseason, or a mid-season deal between two NBA or NHL teams looking for pieces for a playoff push. It involved Al Michaels, the lead NFL play-by-play announcer for NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcasts.
Reports indicated that ESPN was hoping to make a trade to rebuild its Monday Night Football commentary team, with Michaels rejoining the Disney fray in a plan to pair him with a newcomer color commentator, specifically Peyton Manning.
It wouldn’t have been the first time an announcer was traded to another company, and it wouldn’t have even been the first time Michaels himself had been dealt. Back in 2006, when John Madden went to NBC, Michaels was let out of his contract with ESPN to join his former broadcast partner at the helm of NBC’s Sunday Night Football programming.
In return for Michaels, NBC sold ESPN the rights to four years worth of Ryder Cup golf coverage, and gave ESPN the ability to air more Olympic highlights, and sold the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to ESPN’s parent company, Disney.
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While no other talent was technically involved in the “trade,” it set a precedent that ESPN hoped to maneuver through once more when the opportunity seemed to present itself in 2020. Alas, NBC shot down the rumored offer, staying committed to Michaels as part of its Sunday Night Football commentary team alongside Cris Collinsworth.
But, what if that deal had gone through? What if there was a “trade deadline” of sorts for networks to take advantage of if they were looking to shake things up and rework their broadcast teams?
Jumping on that idea, the Swing of Things’ fictional “National Broadcast League” broke down five potential deals that could help a variety of networks in their efforts to group together the best of the best for their respective sports.
In this scenario, all of these trades would have to go through, as many would be related to the circumstances created by the last. None are meant to serve as knocks against specific commentators, but rather as the creation of ideal opportunities for both up-and-coming and long-standing names in the industry.
Without further adieu, it’s time to play “Let’s Make a Deal” in this “National Broadcast League”:
NBC sends Al Michaels to ESPN for Randy Moss, Sam Ponder and John Buccigross
In a trade that would officially start the trend, Al Michaels would leave his post as the play-by-play man for the highly-touted Sunday Night Football broadcasts, and would head over to ESPN in an attempt to rejuvenate Monday Night Football.
In this scenario, ESPN would finally have its first solidified play-by-play man for MNF since Mike Tirico went to NBC in 2016, and would have a selling point in its efforts to sign a sports media “free agent” like Peyton Manning.
The network wouldn’t have to place its top college football team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on MNF duty, and could instead give a fresh look to what used to be the week’s go-to event during the football season.
In return, NBC could work towards the future, getting NFL Countdown analysts Randy Moss and Sam Ponder, along with SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross. Countdown host Ponder could replace NBC’s Mike Tirico in-studio, as Tirico would finally get to assume the post next to Collinsworth in the Sunday Night Football booth.
Meanwhile, Moss could join Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison in the Football Night in America studio for pregame, halftime and postgame coverage, and Buccigross could become a centerpiece for NBC’s extensive hockey coverage, which has been forced to work through 10-12 straight hours of games in the COVID-19 bubble for this year’s postseason.
It would all lead to the start of a new era for two of NBC’s sports, and give ESPN what its looking for as it relates to its faltering football coverage. In that sense, it would be a win-win for both sides.
ESPN sends Alex Rodriguez to FOX for John Smoltz and David Ortiz
This deal is a tough one for FOX to consider, given the risk that would come with dealing for a big name like Alex Rodriguez while A-Rod is reportedly looking into ownership opportunities with the New York Mets. But, if FOX wants the biggest names for its MLB coverage, this may be the move to make.
FOX would be able to pair Joe Buck with a massive name like Rodriguez to give some more name recognition to the network’s Saturday baseball broadcasts, along with its postseason coverage and the World Series on its air. It would be the closest thing possible to Buck’s NFL commentary partner Troy Aikman as far as starpower is concerned, and would still give a personality to work off of if Buck is covering the NFL and forced to take a week off from calling MLB games.
FOX’s current MLB color commentator John Smoltz would then replace Rodriguez on Sunday Night Baseball games, and ESPN could land a historic name like David Ortiz to add to its studio coverage of the sport. In the end, ESPN may be able to even squeeze more out of the deal, and add another baseball analyst or football color commentator/analyst for their return.
CBS sends Ian Eagle to ESPN for Chris Fowler and Pat McAfee
Ian Eagle is viewed as a man who can do it all, between his play-by-play work on CBS’ second NFL commentary team, his announcing for both NBA and college basketball games on CBS, TNT and the YES Network, and even his experience covering the French Open on the Tennis Channel.
But, what if he could go to a network who is known for its coverage of almost every sport, and could shine in a variety of ways for a single entity? Enter ESPN.
Much like Mike Tirico for NBC, Eagle could be groomed as the next big thing for all of ESPN’s sports coverage. He could take over on Monday Night Football commentary during any off days for Michaels, or after Michaels’ eventual retirement, and can work on big-time college football games, as well. He could call NBA games on ESPN or ABC behind Mike Breen, and fill in where needed on anything else that ESPN sees him as a good fit for.
To fill the big void that Eagle’s departure would create for CBS, the network could get a college football announcing legend in Chris Fowler, and a unique football personality in Pat McAfee. Fowler would provide a big boost to CBS’ massive SEC football coverage, or could be the perfect number-two man behind Jim Nantz for NFL games, as well.
McAfee would give a youthful jolt to CBS’ NFL Today program on Sunday mornings, and could throw himself into the color commentary fray for both NFL and college football games. He showed off his worth during XFL games on ESPN and ABC before the league folded, and has long pushed for the opportunity to become a mainstay on a commentary team over the years.
ESPN may be the true winner in this deal, but the sheer talent that Fowler provides and the potential of a guy like McAfee could turn this into a long-term win for a network like CBS.
TNT sends Stan Van Gundy and Reggie Miller to ESPN for Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson
This one provides some fun to the mix, and shakes up a few of the biggest NBA commentary teams in the process.
Stan Van Gundy has emerged as a strong color commentator alongside Ian Eagle on TNT’s coverage of the NBA’s bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the two’s chemistry has been unmatched. But, what if he was able to pair up with an announcer like Mike Breen on ESPN’s coverage, or join Eagle on ESPN in this fictional world?
On the other side, Breen already has a Van Gundy on his commentary team, with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson filling out ESPN/ABC’s main trio for NBA games and the NBA Finals.
With so many games going on between ESPN and TNT in the bubble, and plenty of playoff coverage to go around, a large-scale trade may help to refresh viewers and pair Stan Van Gundy up with two of the best in the business for NBA coverage.
This deal would send Stan Van Gundy and another TNT announcer in Reggie Miller over to ESPN, with Breen’s broadcast partners of Jeff Van Gundy and Jackson heading over to TNT in return. Stan Van Gundy would be able to work with Breen and/or Eagle on big games, while Jeff Van Gundy and Jackson could then banter with studio personalities like Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal in a setting that better fits their respective styles.
Jeff Van Gundy and Jackson could either be placed on a trio-style commentary team with TNT mainstays like Marv Albert or Brian Anderson.
Miller could then either be paired with Eagle on ESPN’s second NBA team, or he could work with Breen on the network’s top team given his experience both in the NBA and in the commentary business. Regardless, ESPN would have two solid commentary pairings to choose from, and allocate accordingly.
The move would separate a team that garners some criticism at times in Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Jackson, and give all parties involved a fresh start to work with in new settings.
ESPN sends Dave Flemming to TBS/TNT for Dwyane Wade
ESPN’s Dave Flemming showed off his worth during the network’s PGA Championship coverage in San Francisco, balancing his duties between his time on the course and in the booth for local San Francisco Giants broadcasts. Add in his play-by-play work for games across the NBA, college basketball, college football, and Monday Night Baseball, and he is an Ian Eagle-esque talent over on ESPN.
With ESPN gaining Eagle’s services in these fictional deals, Flemming may be able to transition his efforts to another network and become a top commentary name in the process. Given his expertise in baseball and basketball, a trade to Turner’s networks would give him the opportunity to take on a top role with TBS’s MLB coverage and a secondary spot in TNT’s NBA coverage behind Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan.
ESPN’s strong suit at this point in its history is basketball, and they luck out in this case that TNT is loaded up with such a “who’s who” of the sport’s analysts. The potential perfect name for ESPN to acquire and work with going forward? Dwyane Wade.
Wade has shown off his strengths while working with Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe and WNBA star Candace Parker on TNT’s studio coverage in the bubble, and could mesh well with former opponents like Jalen Rose, Paul Pierce and Richard Jefferson.
It’s not the most earth-shattering deal of the bunch, but a Flemming-for-Wade trade could help both networks with their respective situations after all of the dust clears from these moves, and set both of them up for the future of each of their priorities.