The Tony Romo free agency sweepstakes will start in earnest next week as Romo could finally hit the open market, The Post has learned.
CBS has held talks with Romo’s representatives during its exclusive negotiating period, but no deal has been reached yet.
Romo is contractually allowed to speak with other networks in March if he and CBS have failed to come to an agreement by then, according to sources.
If this happens, ESPN will be CBS’ main competition in what may end up being the most lucrative sports commentator negotiations in TV history.
What is already certain is that Romo will surpass John Madden’s NFL TV analyst record of $8 million per year, according to sources, and will exceed $10 million. Maybe by a lot.
ESPN plans to make a serious run at Romo for “Monday Night Football” as it heads into its NFL rights negotiations in which it hopes to add a second package of games to pair with “Monday Night Football.” Most importantly, it wants to become part of the Super Bowl rotation.
Disney/ABC/ESPN is prepared to spend “crazy money,” according to sources, to land more NFL and their quest will begin with going hard after Romo.
Meanwhile, CBS still has the home-network advantage after three years in which Romo and his partner Jim Nantz have been nearly universally praised.
CBS is prepared to give Romo a substantial raise from the little more than $3 million he made last season in the final year of his rookie TV deal. The idea that Romo could end up making four times as much as he did last year — $12 million per year — is quite plausible. Maybe more.
CBS has the Super Bowl on its air next February, and it plans to try to retain its Sunday afternoon NFL package in the upcoming negotiations, according to sources.
All of this is the backdrop to why Romo’s TV free agency is so unique. He is entering the market with the most important programming on television, the NFL, soon to begin its next broadcasting rights talks.
His $10 million-plus deal is the appetizer to the forthcoming billion-dollar negotiations. With ESPN looking to further impress the NFL, Romo’s timing is impeccable.
NFL executives, according to sources, have been unsatisfied with ESPN’s Monday Night booth, which in 2019 consisted of Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland. This is why a Romo deal may not look like other ESPN contracts. If ESPN were to lure Romo, sources said ESPN knows that Romo is not coming to do “Get Up!” on Tuesdays.
Romo would likely only leave CBS if his schedule is primarily game-focused, according to sources.
If Romo sticks with CBS, ESPN does have backup plans — note the plural — according to sources. What those plans would be aren’t fully known yet.
ESPN will likely call Peyton Manning again to see if he is finally ready to be a broadcaster at a $10-12 million per season Romo-like rate.
Heading into the rights negotiations, Disney may not quibble over a million here or there in giving Romo or Manning such a contract.
This is a big reason that Romo’s salary could rise past John Madden’s 1994 analyst record of $8 million, even when adjusted for inflation, which would be $14 million.
Internally, ESPN could consider moving its lead college team, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstriet, over to the NFL, though ESPN is unsure it would want to unsettle the duo from its current perch, which includes ABC’s Saturday Night top game and the National Championship.
Even more so than a year ago, when the looming Romo free agency story first surfaced, Romo owns increased leverage to shape his next contract how he wants it.
He will make more money in one year than he did during the three years of his rookie TV deal that was valued at around a total of $10 million.
Viacom-CBS is planning to stand toe-to-toe with Disney, but there is a number where they would surely have to throw in the towel out of prudence.
After an earnings call last week, Viacom-CBS lost nearly $12 billion of market value from what was $30 billion. This could cause it to double-down on Romo or, by the end of negotiations, it could choose to be more fiscally responsible and plow some of the money earmarked for Romo into the next rights deal.
If CBS lost Romo, it could give Manning a call or just slide Boomer Esiason over from studio duty or consider someone such as Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.
Adding to the big money intrigue and the rivalry, Disney just took the SEC package from CBS in a deal for around $300 million per year, according to the Sports Business Journal. ABC/ESPN’s SEC contract begins in 2024.
In many ways, the $10 million-plus numbers for an analyst are illogical. Does Romo bring in one more viewer?
In other ways, the money makes sense because, after three years in the booth, Romo adds star power to big games and it will demonstrate to the NFL the winning network’s commitment to having the top production in the sport.
Plus, if you are going to pay billions for the games, what is another $10-15 million to have the new Madden?
Any way you add it up, Romo will be in the middle of March Madness.