[This story was originally posted on January 15, 2014. CBS confirmed the moves on February 18, 2014.]
CBS, disappointed that its NFL pregame show fell further behind rival Fox in the ratings this season, is internally discussing major changes to the show, multiple sources tell The Big Lead. FOX NFL Sunday had its best season ever, averaging 4.8 million viewers in 2013, while The NFL Today on CBS was a distant 2nd at 3.3 million viewers. A CBS spokesperson had no comment this week when asked about the following changes that the network is considering. It’s unclear which – if any – of these will actually happen, but sources say the following is being discussed:
• Bringing in recently-retired tight end Tony Gonzalez to replace Shannon Sharpe. Gonzalez and CBS have been in talks about joining the show, but he’s West Coast-based, and the show is out of New York. Gonzalez is wrestling with the idea of weekly travel during the season. FOX’s show is based in LA and appears to be an ideal fit, but it can’t offer him a spot because it isn’t going to tinker with the show’s chemistry. Given the option of Fox Sports 1 or NFL Today on CBS, what would you do? The other issue is that Gonzalez and Sharpe are apparently close friends. Another option: Simply adding Gonzalez. But is six people on the set too many?
• Replacing Dan Marino. There was plenty of scuttlebutt last year that Marino would be replaced after the “love child” stories hit the press. CBS, the most conservative of the networks, didn’t make a move. The problem with replacing Marino this year? There aren’t any star QBs retiring to take his spot. Unless …
* The other name to watch is Peyton Manning. While there are no indications that Manning will retire if he wins a second Super Bowl, CBS privately has discussed the idea of pitching Manning a dual role: a spot on the new CBS College Football Saturday set and a spot on The NFL Today. Manning will be immensely coveted by all the networks whenever he retires, and his background in the SEC playing for Tennessee, plus the fact he spent his entire career in the AFC, are no-brainers for CBS.
* One source said that CBS had been hoping to land Rex Ryan if the Jets had fired their coach. He was a perfect fit for CBS – proximity to New York, knowledge of the AFC, and his blustery nature. But the Jets retained Ryan, reportedly on a multi-year extension. There’s a chance both Ryan and Manning would be available after the 2014 season. Or neither could be. Then is CBS stuck with the same group for two more years?