Jim O'Donnell: Injury to Brees draws attention to NFL's TV future

  • New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, here getting pressured by the Bears' Bilal Nichols, was injured Nov. 15 against San Francisco and suffered a punctured lung and broken ribs.

    New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, here getting pressured by the Bears' Bilal Nichols, was injured Nov. 15 against San Francisco and suffered a punctured lung and broken ribs. Mark Busch/mbusch@shawmedia.com

Updated 11/25/2020 4:27 PM

WHEN SAN FRANCISCO'S Kentavius Street slammed Drew Brees to the turf two Sundays ago, he did more than break some ribs and puncture a lung of the Saints veteran QB.

The 49ers offender also shook major broadcast counters from Bristol, Conn., to Brentwood, Calif., and streaming clouds in between.


Almost all credible speculation is that even if Brees, 41, does return in time to marshal the New Orleans push into the playoffs, he will announce his retirement this winter.

That would position him to begin his second pro career with NBC Sports next year.

How much of a pinball effect Brees's decision will have on the NFL's four legacied network rights holders remains to be seen, particularly because there are so many moving parts.

The biggest one is that the league and all of its collective video transmission partners are in the stretch run of negotiations for new multiyear rights packages.

From a grand overview, the biggest question is whether ESPN/ABC will become part of the Super Bowl rotation and whether that listing combine will somehow wind up with an addendum to its horizontaling "Monday Night Football" package.

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More than one knowledgeable source has indicated that the NFL is once again weighing the possibility of crafting a partial-season "Saturday Night Football" window that would have an annual run of eight to 10 weeks and begin later in September.

Saturday night kickoff times would require adroitness by the league office.

Anything before 7 p.m. Central would be a dart to the heart of midafternoon and early evening college games.

Anything beyond 7 p.m. would almost certainly bring the concluding moments of the new property into direct competition with the iconic opening of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and eliminate the Peacock Network as a suitor.

As for talent, Brees is expected to begin as an analyst on NBC's Notre Dame football games and as part of the web's "Sunday Night Football" studio crew.


His apprenticeship will likely be somewhat open-ended.

Cris Collinsworth, 61, reportedly isn't going anywhere soon. Some people forget he had to wait three years before John Madden retired at age 72 following the 2008 season, allowing Collinsworth to glide into the NBC side chair alongside Al Michaels.

If this were still The Era of Roone Arledge at ABC -- when the network was bold, brassy and resourced -- there is no question media wireless would be rife with speculation that the network was chasing both Collinsworth and Jim Nantz as a new dream team.

But the ESPN/ABC of now is thin, financially stretched and in a third-and-long in terms of booth prestige with "Monday Night" analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese repeatedly diminished by extraordinarily annoying play-by-play gasbag Steve Levy.

So the wheels in the clouds keep on turning.

And with brutal economic residuals from the pandemic dead ahead, the only certainty in the negotiating sanctums of the NFL is that its TV greed has to be a record good.

For the league.

STREET-BEATIN': Nothing but slapdowns for both Chicago sports talk stations in the new Nielsen Audio numbers released this week: Mitch Rosen and Cubs-less WSCR-AM (670) slid far back down the transmitter while Mike Thomas and ESPN AM-1000 essentially remain a non-starter as year two of its Good Karma Brands stewardship begins. ...

Every time a Bears game airs in prime time, it's a reminder WFLD-Channel 32 still has a news department. (In any dispersal draft, Dawn Hasbrouck would be first talent chosen -- the Duke alum deserves much better.) ...

NBC shakes it up a bit Sunday night in its Bears-Packers coverage with Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy in the booth and Kathryn Tappen making her debut as an NFL sideline reporter (NBC-5, 7:20 p.m.) ...

Peyton Manning has agreed to host a 10-episode revival of the old "College Bowl" on NBC. Premiere date yet to be announced; previous hosts of the campus quiz show included Allen Ludden, Robert Earle and in a radio version c. 1981, the great Art Fleming. ...

Speaking of Fleming, news that Ken Jennings will be the first fill-in host on the post-Alex Trebek "Jeopardy!" is like finding out Merrill Osmond will be opening for the Rolling Stones. ...

And Shannon Sharpe, among the many taking note of fading Tom Brady not shaking hands with opposing QBs after Tampa Bay losses, deadpanned: "Brady is full of what the elephant leaves on the show ground."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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