With Jon Gruden making his triumphant return to the NFL as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders, there is now a vacancy in the color commentator spot for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, an extremely visible and desirable position at the company.
Gruden had been at ESPN since 2009 and had grown into a beloved personality at the network by the time of his departure.
In addition to being the color commentator on MNF, he began hosting Jon Gruden’s QB Camp in 2012, grilling many of the top quarterback prospects coming out of college and was always being willing to extol the virtues of Spider 2 Y-Banana, a play that has turned into a meme among fans.
Gruden had been so popular at ESPN that a parody Twitter account called @Faux_Gruden, which tweets about the NFL utilizing Gruden’s mannerisms, has more than 331,000 followers and has grown into one of the most popular NFL-related profiles on the service.
Clearly, Gruden will be missed at ESPN, with whoever comes after him having big shoes to fill.
There is already speculation about who will take over, with the current favorite being another Super Bowl winner who is almost as quotable and beloved as Gruden: Peyton Manning.
Who will replace Jon Gruden as ESPN’s MNF Color Commentator?
Peyton Manning +225
Louis Riddick +450
Bruce Arians +700
Kurt Warner +800
Matt Hasselbeck +900
Tim Tebow +1000
Randy Moss +1200
Phil Simms +2000
Rex Ryan +2500
John Madden +10000
Bill Belichick +10000 pic.twitter.com/nwIcpygJGx
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) January 5, 2018
Manning would make sense, given his likeability among fans, star power, acumen for the game and prior work as a spokesman for Nationwide.
However, I believe there might be another potential replacement, someone who is flying under the radar of many and whose potential hire would leave many Browns fans devastated, but ultimately happy for its recipient: Joe Thomas.
This might seem far-fetched at first glance, but it is possible upon further examination.
After all, who would’ve thought in 2007 that Michael Strahan’s post-career endeavors would include gigs as Regis Philbin’s replacement on Live! with Kelly and Michael and as a co-host of Good Morning America?
Thomas is reportedly contemplating his NFL future after yet another losing season and a torn triceps, which ended his year in Week 7 (along with his hallowed consecutive snaps streak).
Thomas says that his first consideration will be his overall health and well-being, which makes sense, given the fact that he has played through a multitude of injuries in his career, and says he is already suffering from memory loss, although he is unsure if it is football-related or not.
Thomas’ retirement would prove somewhat premature as he was still performing at a high level at the time of his injury.
However, he would not be the first player to opt for an early retirement despite still having something left in the tank.
Former Cowboys QB Tony Romo retired in April, despite interest from several teams, and, coincidentally, immediately jumped into broadcasting, replacing Phil Simms as an analyst alongside Jim Nantz for CBS.
His inclusion into CBS’ NFL broadcasts was certainly a risk, given his lack of any prior experience in the broadcast booth, but the gamble ended up paying off.
Romo was immediately praised by many for his style, candor, and propensity for accurately predicting many plays.
Although Thomas might not be able to predict plays like Romo, he has done media-related work before, being a former cohost of Outdoors Ohio on Sportstime Ohio for three years and hosting his own web series for the Browns.
He also seems to exude a warm, funny personality and a good knowledge of football, which is evident in many of his tweets and prior work in the media.
These traits can do nothing but help Thomas’ case if he decides to go into broadcasting, whether it is this offseason or in the future.
After all, a personality and signature style, combined with intelligence, can go a long way in drawing in a viewer’s attention and keeping them glued to their televisions. The dichotomy between the warm reception Romo has seen in his first year versus the cold shoulder his predecessor Simms received from many is a great example of this.
Fans want to listen to an analyst who is likable and oozes personality, all while delivering it with a smile. Thomas checks all of these boxes, which makes him perfect for the vacancy on MNF.
Whether Thomas decides to hang his cleats up this offseason or later, he will certainly draw interest from many networks as a potential broadcaster.
However, he would miss a golden opportunity if he did not at least consider vying for the opening on Monday nights. After all, the cushy, high-paid gig would fit him well and be miles above what he would endure as a member of the Browns.