The new year is already proving to be a strange time for quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers may have thrown his last pass for the Green Bay Packers, Tom Brady is considering retirement and Troy Aikman could be approaching his last game with Fox Sports.
Aikman, who has worked at Fox since 2000, would consider signing with Amazon Prime and calling only Thursday night football next season. The Pro Football Hall of Famer recently admitted he wasn’t sure if he would combine the two jobs or only work at Amazon if he landed there.
Such a change would be drastic for football fans. Aikman has worked alongside Joe Buck on the network’s No. 1 broadcast team since 2002, and the two have called six Super Bowls together. There’s a whole generation of football fans who are too young to remember that NBC Sports’ Cris Collinsworth worked with these two from 2002 to 2004.
Although Fox has yet to announce who could potentially replace Aikman in the No. 1 broadcast booth next year, now seems like a great time to analyze some candidates. For this list, we weighed the possible choices based on realism — Peyton Manning definitely won’t walk through that door — and Fox’s tendency to favor players who have recently retired.
Based on the above prerequisites, the best potential successors rank as follows:
Honorable Mention: Aqib Talib, Fox Sports
Talib almost instantly became a fan-favorite color commentator when he joined Fox Sports in 2020 thanks to his enthusiasm and a loud, unfiltered approach to game analysis. While the style isn’t for everyone, the retired All-Pro cornerback has nonetheless cultivated a sizable following, especially on social media.
However, Talib is still a work in progress, and he’d probably be the first to admit it. Fox execs might also prefer to pair Buck with a more experienced partner. Still, football fans should expect to see Talib continue to rise through the ranks at Fox in the years to come.
5. Phil Simms, CBS Sports
While the idea of Simms leaving CBS is pure speculation, we think he’d be an intriguing fit next to Buck should the opportunity arise. The two-time Super Bowl champion is a proven color commentator who spent from 2004 to 2016 working alongside Jim Nantz on CBS’ No. 1 broadcast team. He has spent the last few years working as a panelist on The NFL todaythe network’s long-running pregame show.
There have been no credible reports that Simms wants to leave CBS, and it’s unclear what the 66-year-old’s contract currently looks like; he had several years left on his contract when the network removed him from the No. 1 broadcast team in 2017. However, if Simms is interested in a change and wants to call the games again, Fox makes sense if the two networks can make something work.
4. Mark Sanchez, Fox Sports
After throwing his last pass in the NFL in 2018, Sanchez spent a few years at ESPN before signing with Fox as a game analyst last year. He worked alongside Kevin Kugler and sideline reporter Laura Okmin during the 2021 season and notably called the Washington Football Team-Philadelphia Eagles game on Tuesday, December 21; the league’s COVID-19 outbreak pushed that game back two days, allowing a semi-national audience to hear the 2009 first-round pick in action.
Sanchez, who turned 35 in November, is still extremely young and has shown no indication he wants to quit broadcasting. He’s a former quarterback with an affable personality, a willingness to laugh at himself, and a clear football smarts. Even if he doesn’t win Aikman’s job, don’t be surprised if Sanchez becomes a star at Fox in the years to come.
3. Brady Quinn, Fox Sports
Believe it or not, Quinn has worked for Fox since 2014 and has commentated NFL games in the past. He is currently a panelist on Midday kick-offFox’s college football pregame show and co-hosts 2 perks and a cup of joe on Fox Sports Radio.
A Notre Dame graduate, Quinn regularly delivers insightful commentary no matter what hat the network asks her to wear. Fox wouldn’t have kept him around for almost a decade if he didn’t believe in him and his ability to be successful on the air. Quinn is definitely a name to watch if Aikman isn’t at Fox next year.
2. Sean Payton, former New Orleans Saints head coach
If Payton wants to work in broadcast next season, it looks like he’ll be at Fox. The network offered him a job when he missed the entire 2012 season for his role in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal. However, Fox must determine if hiring Payton solely to replace Aikman is the right move given the Super Bowl 44 champion’s uncertain future.
Payton has made it clear that he does not view his recent decision to step down as his retirement. If he’s keen to coach again before the 2023 season, he may only spend a year at Fox if the right opportunity presents itself. Theoretically, Payton could be at Fox for eight months or eight years, depending on how things go.
Although Payton is the favorite to replace Aikman, that doesn’t necessarily make him the best candidate.
1. Greg Olsen, Fox Sports
Although the 2021 season marked Olsen’s first full year at Fox, he had previously contributed to the network on a somewhat freelance basis — he provided color commentary during the Carolina Panthers’ bye weeks — during the last years of his career. He even worked as an XFL analyst in early 2020 before the pandemic forced the league out of business.
Fox groomed Olsen for stardom, and he makes perfect sense as Aikman’s successor. He turns 37 in March and has shown no desire to retire and make one last run in a Super Bowl ring. Olsen would also enjoy at least a year with Buck, who admitted last year he may not return to Fox Sports after his contract expires in February 2023.
Of course, there would also be a sense of poetry here. Olsen was born on March 11, 1985, just months before Aikman began his first full season as a starting quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners.
We apologize to Aikman for reminding him how time flies. Then again, the fact that he could finally leave Fox should have already refreshed his memory on that front.
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