Bob Raissman: Loyalty in short supply as CBS dumps Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason from ‘The NFL Today’

NEW YORK — The dust settling still has not translated into a clear vision of why CBS Sports decided to dump Phil Simms and Norman Julius Esiason from its “The NFL Today” studio team.

Was it money? Lack of performance by the two former quarterbacks who both worked at the network for over two decades? Executive ego? Or CBS wanting to get younger?

Some of the fingers pointed in CBS’ direction believe age — Simms is 68; Esiason, 63 — played a large part in the decision. Yet it’s hard to cry ageism considering CBS extended the contract of NFL Today anchor James Brown who is 73. Bill Cowher, another analyst on the show, is 67.

Nonetheless, if new CBS Sports boss David Berson, who replaced the recently retired Sean McManus, was fashioning a move to make the show younger, he would be ignoring what’s worked for CBS’ pregame competition at Fox Sports. The Foxies changed the landscape of Sunday pregame offerings by placing a high priority on entertaining.

In large part, the Fox Sports philosophy was successfully executed by three voices on the far side of 30. Howie Long, 64, Jimmy Johnson, who will be 81 when the 2024 season starts, and master showman Terry Bradshaw, who will be 76 when the season starts. Fox has stuck with its Golden Boys. The three have blended for some unique chemistry, giving the show a distinct personality.

The same kind of chemical balance Esiason and Simms had on CBS. Individually, their football insight and analysis were original but when they went one-on-one with insults, some subtle, some not, that’s when they brought a different dimension to the X’s and O’s talk.

Apparently, this was of no value to those in charge of “The NFL Today.” The suits didn’t factor the uniqueness of the former quarterbacks' on-air relationship into their decision. They also did not take into account that Esiason recently signed a three-year extension with Audacy to continue hosting his WFAN morning show, which has successfully attracted a young demographic.

CBS disposed of Simms/Esiason to bring in Matt Ryan, the former Falcons quarterback who worked in a three-person booth with Tiki Barber and Andrew Catalon. Ryan, 38, was workmanlike but straight-up X’s-and-O’s vanilla. CBS also retained J.J. Watt, who worked an abbreviated studio schedule in 2023.

Money can never be dismissed as part of the equation when management jettisons veteran talent. Yet industry sources say the move is not saving CBS Sports a significant amount of dough.

In the end, this could be just a case of Berson, the new CBS Sports boss, wanting to shake things up quickly and put his stamp on the sports department. This is not an unusual move for new management to make.

Still, the coming of Ryan is not exactly a blockbuster acquisition. All the attention was on the guys kicked out the door. A big-time play for Berson would have brought Jason Kelce or Greg Olsen to “The NFL Today.”

Perhaps the only time-tested truism confirmed by the departures of Esiason and Simms is this: In the sports media business, in this case sports television, loyalty is in limited supply. After 19 seasons as CBS’ No. 1 NFL analyst, producing at the highest level, with Jim Nantz, Simms was unceremoniously replaced by Tony Romo in 2017.

And now CBS boots Simms off the studio stage for (pick your favorite dubious reason). Simms has the right to be ticked off. This episode reminds us of many moons ago when NBC Sports fired the former great Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson.

Back then, Dawson was asked if he knew anything was wrong with his TV performances?

“No,” Dawson said. “They kept saying everything was fine. Then they fired me.”