ESPN officially confirms Witten hire, unveils new 'Monday Night Football' team

ESPN has unveiled its new “Monday Night Football” team, making the announcement via social media and emailed news releases on Thursday morning.

The network officially confirmed the hiring of former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten as in-booth analyst. There will be three others on the broadcasts: play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore, on-field analyst Booger McFarland, and veteran MNF sideline reporter Lisa Salters.

The first regular-season MNF game of the year will be on September 10, when the Oakland Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams. Witten is replacing the Raiders’ familiar new head coach, Jon Gruden.

Is ESPN gambling that Witten will be a star like Tony Romo?

The news that CBS was bumping longtime analyst Phil Simms from its No. 1 NFL team last year and replacing him with Romo was met with skepticism by some. But Romo was a breath of fresh air, predicting plays before they happened, offering insight, and getting excited in the booth like a fan.

ESPN seems to be gambling that Witten, an 11-time Pro Bowler, will be able to offer the same to MNF viewers. And it’s an expensive roll of the dice: Witten will reportedly make $4-4.5 million a year, far more than the $1 million in base salary he was scheduled to make if he’d stayed with the Cowboys in 2018.

Witten reportedly aced his screen test with ESPN, with test audiences giving him glowing reviews, but of course there may be some early jitters or bumps as he adjusts to the medium and breaking things down live, in a way that audiences can understand.

ESPN unveiled its new “Monday Night Football” team on Thursday. (AP)
ESPN unveiled its new “Monday Night Football” team on Thursday. (AP)

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Who is Joe Tessitore?

The brief tenure of Sean McDonough in the MNF play-by-play job has gotten some attention, and McDonough said in March that he wanted to move on: the gig, a dream for many aspiring sports broadcasters, wasn’t much fun, in part because he felt MNF got the worst games every week.

Tessitore is just the sixth person in the 49-year history of MNF to hold the play-by-play position, following Keith Jackson, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, Mike Tirico and McDonough.

He’s known to college football viewers, having called games on ESPN and ABC for nearly two decades. Tessitore has called the BCS semifinal games in 2016 and 2017, and has also been ringside commentator for ESPN’s “Top Rank Boxing” and some college basketball games.

In ESPN’s release on the new MNF team, Tessitore said Witten and McFarland are his “dream team,” and that their chemistry was apparent right away during auditions.

McFarland will offer perspective from the field

McFarland is stepping into a newly created role, offering a perspective from field level.

A first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1999, McFarland has been with ESPN since 2014, when he joined the SEC Network as a commentator. Armed with knowledge and an outgoing personality, he’s risen through the ranks quickly, and is a familiar face to regular ESPN viewers and ESPN Radio listeners.

The defensive tackle won Super Bowl rings with the Buccaneers and Colts before retiring in 2006.

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