Super Bowl 2023: Tom Brady remains Plan A for Fox. Yet Greg Olsen has network admitting 'certain amount of regret'
PHOENIX — Last May, Tom Brady agreed to a 10-year, $375 million contract to become Fox Sports’ lead NFL analyst “immediately following his playing career.”
The move gave Fox a burst of future star power after its longtime top broadcasting team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman left for ESPN. No one actually knows if Brady will be any good as a broadcaster, but Fox was willing to risk it.
He is, after all, Tom Brady.
“Over the course of this long-term agreement, Tom will not only call our biggest NFL games with Kevin Burkhardt, but will also serve as an ambassador for us, particularly with respect to client and promotional initiatives,” Fox stated last May.
Well, Brady is finally retired (seemingly for good this time), and Fox is broadcasting Sunday’s Super Bowl, but TB12 will not be on your television this weekend. He announced Monday that he’s taking next season off and won’t start a broadcasting career until 2024.
"I want to be great at what I do, and that always takes some time, strategizing, learning, growing and evolving,” Brady said Monday on Colin Cowherd’s show.
All of which made for a somewhat awkward situation to conclude a somewhat awkward season for Fox.
The guy holding Brady’s seat warm is Greg Olsen, a former tight end for the Carolina Panthers who notes that he lacks “some of the résumé” of other top analysts since he wasn’t “a quarterback in a big market.”
Yet he has developed into a star in just two years as a broadcaster, the last alongside Burkhardt, Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi.
“He’s so good, so fast, it’s remarkable,” Rinaldi said.
It has led to the obvious question: Who needs Tom Brady anyway?
“Greg wants to make us regretful for having done [the Brady deal],” Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks said. “And I guarantee you there will be a certain amount of regret we will have. He’s been calling great games, and he will call a great game this weekend.
“But we all know what the plan is.”
The plan is Tom Brady.
“I feel sorry for Greg Olsen, who’s had a phenomenal year,” Fox Sports’ Terry Bradshaw said Tuesday. “So maybe they may start Tom out on the second team.”
That's highly unlikely. You don’t pay that much money for a name that big and not put him on the highly rated game of the week.
“The problem with Tom is the whole world is gonna watch,” Bradshaw said. “Everyone wants to see how he does. And if he doesn’t meet the expectations of you guys, you’re gonna say it. So I don’t think criticism is something that has come his way in his 20-plus years in the NFL. I know a lot of these superstar quarterbacks get criticized to a degree. They don’t take kindly to it.”
For Fox, this might be a little clunky, but it’s a good problem to have; its fill-in turned out to be great. And while Olsen desperately wants to remain on the top team, he understands the situation.
“It’s been the elephant in the room the entire year,” Olsen said. “I knew what I signed up for. I knew when I sat in this seat, that shadow was always going to be there.
“My approach this year was very similar to that of when I was a player. You can’t control the next draft pick they bring in to take your spot. You can’t control the next rookie — or, in this case, the best football player of all time. My hope was to just go out there and show I belong.”
Brady’s announcement that he wouldn’t start in 2023 eased the immediate dread for Olsen that the Super Bowl – the highest profile gig in American sports broadcasting – would be his last as the lead analyst.
“If it lasts one year, two years, 10 years, I don’t know what the future holds,” Olsen said. “But [I] know that at least I'll have a chance next year to be back with Kevin and Erin and Tom and our crew … How many more years, we don’t know yet. But at least Sunday won’t be the last one.”
The long-term question is whether Brady really wants this job. Is this just a one-year delay or a permanent one?
There are plenty of people who know him who don’t see it as a fit; he has always been fairly guarded with his public comments. Others, of course, note that he has an incredible work ethic and drive to be great at everything he does, so why wouldn’t he make this work as well?
Shanks said that attribute is actually the key to Olsen’s success.
“The biggest thing is, do they want to do it?” Shanks said of former athletes. “[Olsen] wants to be great, and that is what separates him. The feedback that he absorbs, boom, he immediately takes it and goes.”
Olsen is rightfully competitive — “I think anyone who enters any profession, the goal should always be how high you can climb.” He isn’t shying away from any of it. Nor should he. Rinaldi told the story of how on a production call earlier this season before a Tampa Bay game, Olsen joked with Brady about the future.
“Greg just breaks the ice by saying, ‘Tom, I just want you to know, this [job] is not all that it's cracked up to be. This is a burden, a grind. And man, play as long as you can, there’s no rush.’”
Everyone, Brady included, laughed. He retired anyway.
Now Brady says he is going to spend the year studying and preparing. Perhaps that includes Sunday, when he, like 100-million plus other viewers, can listen to the man currently in his seat, trying to prove that he shouldn’t go anywhere. Ever.