The most interesting thing about the Pro Bowl this year might be what happens in the broadcast booth.
ESPN’s decision to put Matt Hasselbeck in the booth alongside Sean McDonough has clear implications. The network needs to find a replacement for Jon Gruden on “Monday Night Football.” That’s one of the most visible jobs ESPN has to offer, and it’s one of the most visible jobs in all of sports (we offered some guesses at who might get the job here). You wouldn’t put Hasselbeck in the booth for your final NFL broadcast of the season if he wasn’t a clear candidate to replace Gruden.
In its announcement, ESPN didn’t ignore that everyone will be viewing this decision as being connected to the vacant “MNF” job.
— bill hofheimer (@bhofheimer_espn) January 12, 2018
While never making a direct connection, even mentioning “Monday Night Football” in announcing Hasselbeck being a part of the broadcast booth allows us to connect dots. Hasselbeck getting this assignment doesn’t mean he’ll get the full-time job, but he’s going to have a unique opportunity that no other candidate will get.
Hasselbeck would be a fine choice, if ESPN goes that way. He knows the game and is engaging on ESPN’s studio shows. It remains to be seen if Hasselbeck can handle the transition to color commentary from the booth. He has limited experience (when he was still playing he joined Chris Myers and Ronde Barber for a game on Fox in 2014, when he was on his bye week). But he is well known from a long NFL career and good at his current role. Amid ESPN’s cutbacks, the network also wouldn’t have to pay millions to hire someone from outside, like Peyton Manning or Bruce Arians.
The Pro Bowl is generally not very interesting, and ratings are sagging as a result. The game on the field lacks intrigue because most of the players don’t want to get hurt in an all-star game. But this season, the Pro Bowl might be worth watching. Perhaps we’ll be getting a preview of our next “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth.
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