Drew Brees is signing with NBC Sports over ESPN in a move that will make him a fixture on NFL telecasts after he finishes playing, The Post has learned.
In a contract that will begin after Brees retires from the Saints, the 41-year-old will be groomed as the potential replacement for Cris Collinsworth on “Sunday Night Football,” according to sources.
“Like all NFL fans, we look forward to watching Drew continue his Hall of Fame career this fall, and we are confident his post-playing career will be just as successful,” NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes told The Post.
NBC already has a succession plan for Collinsworth’s SNF partner, Al Michaels. After the 2022 Super Bowl, Mike Tirico is going to take over full-time for Michaels.
When Brees retires from the Saints, he is expected to start as a game analyst on Notre Dame football and as a studio analyst for “Football Night in America.” In its recruitment of Brees, NBC sold him on it being the best place to succeed.
The move by NBC has been made in part to solidify its announcing group as all the networks head into negotiations with the NFL for the next TV rights agreement. NBC could possibly add a second NFL package, which would allow Brees and Collinsworth to both be No. 1s. If not, Brees will be in the on-deck circle.
This offseason, Brees signed a two-year, $50 million contract with the Saints, though there is a feeling this could be his final season. While ESPN was thought to be the highest bidder for Brees in the $6 million range, NBC’s offer is said to be competitive with it.
In the end, ESPN declined a financial offer from Brees that could have landed him on “Monday Night Football,” according to sources. ESPN felt it was too steep a price and would rather go forward with a more immediate plan.
As for ESPN, its search to replace Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland on “Monday Night Football” continues. Internally, Steve Levy is considered a strong candidate for the play-by-play position, though ESPN does have others to choose from in Adam Amin, Dave Pasch and Bob Wischusen.
On the analyst side, ESPN will internally consider Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese, while looking outside at NFL Network/Westwood One’s Kurt Warner and CBS/NFL Network’s Nate Burleson, according to sources.
ESPN had interest in Brees for “Monday Night Football” and was willing to wait for him if it could have agreed to terms. It had previously wanted to hire Tony Romo, but CBS locked him up for $180 million before Romo could officially hit the open market. ESPN again went after Peyton Manning, who declined. Philip Rivers decided to continue playing.
NBC has created depth, but it is a potentially awkward situation. Michaels, 75, is considered maybe the best NFL play-by-player in history and has no plans to retire.
Earlier in the offseason, NBC declined ESPN’s exploration in trying to trade for Michaels. ESPN had hoped for a powerhouse combination of Michaels and Manning.
Meanwhile, Collinsworth, 61, is well-liked by NBC. The network just signed his son, Jac, to be a big part of its future coverage.
It is conceivable to imagine that when Tirico leaves the studio show for the broadcast booth full-time, that NBC — if it only has one NFL TV package — could appeal to Collinsworth by having him sit next to his son in studio for the network’s pregame show.
While Jac Collinsworth would likely be a candidate for the show, Liam McHugh, who is already on “Football Night in America,” would be, as well.