Monday Night Football’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman Media Call

NFL

Monday Night Football’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman Media Call

On Monday, May 16, Monday Night Football’s new broadcasting duo, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, spoke with media from ESPN’s campus in Bristol, CT. They were joined by Stephanie Druley, ESPN Head of Event & Studio Production.

Please find a transcript of the call below:

THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to the Monday Night Football conference call. Stephanie Druley, head of production here at ESPN, will be with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on this call, but to begin we’re going to turn it over to Jimmy Pitaro, chairman ESPN and sports content.

JIMMY PITARO: Thank you. I’m thrilled to officially welcome Joe and Troy to ESPN and Monday Night Football. They are elite broadcasters who have been at the forefront of our industry for more than two decades.

As most of you know, we’re on the doorstep of a new long-term agreement with the NFL with most regular and postseason games coming our way, Super Bowls, games for ESPN+, and scheduling flexibility.

With that as the backdrop, we feel great to have had the chance to land Troy and Joe together, keeping the longest tenured NFL booth intact and continuing their industry leading run.

Joe and Troy are universally respected, and fans truly appreciate their candor and expertise. They join an exceptional Monday Night Football group, including the extremely talented Lisa Salters, officiating analyst John Perry, and a hardworking and passionate production team.

Add to the mix the returning Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli, and you can expect Monday nights to be memorable experiences for millions of fans.

The NFL is an ascending property and our just released Monday Night Football schedule is exceptional. We can’t wait to get the season started. While the season is months away, you can catch Joe later this week on our platforms when he hosts four days of alternative telecasts for the PGA Championship, all of which demonstrate the variety of opportunities that exist at ESPN today.

Thank you very much for giving me a chance to welcome Troy and Joe to the ESPN family and enjoy the media call. I’m now going to turn it over to Joe and Troy.

JOE BUCK: Jimmy, thank you. This is exciting. We’re sitting here in the headquarters of ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, a place I’ve never been to prior to this day, and it’s been overwhelming in the best possible sense of the word.

We had a chance to talk to people on campus. We did a little meet-and-greet, a little question-and-answer session, got a tour, saw a quote from my dad on the wall outside one of the workrooms, and it’s just an amazing place.

Now to be here for Monday Night Football, for me, a kid who grew up idolizing his dad and Jock Buck who did Monday Night Football on the radio with Hannah Storm for, I don’t know, 10, 12 years, whatever the number ended up being, I would go to him to these different stadiums and sit in the radio booth a couple of steps away from the Monday Night Football booth, and I knew as a little kid something special was going on two doors down and that was obviously when Howard Cosell was there, Don Meredith was there, Frank Gifford was there. And man, that was the peak of sports and media, and now here we are.

I couldn’t be happier. I know we’ll get into this during the bulk of the question-and-answer, but to be still working with my guy here, this is our 21st year together. We don’t take that lightly. We know how this business works. Our friendship is as strong as ever, and my anticipation for the start of the season is literally off the charts. I’ve never been this excited.

I don’t think, maybe back in ’94 when I was 25 wondering why I was standing in Soldier Field on opening day wondering if I could get through the game, but now there’s this, and a new chapter in my life and our lives, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Excited to talk about it. Happy to answer all the questions and happy to welcome in Troy.

TROY AIKMAN: Yeah, I’ll just piggy-back off of that and say that my first remembrances of watching the NFL were on Monday nights with, as he said, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith and Howard Cosell. It’s obviously an historic property, and to be part of it after working with Joe for the last 20 years to now be with ESPN doing Monday nights in that Monday Night booth is really special for me. We’ve had a great reception here in Bristol, Connecticut, my first time to be here, as well, on campus, and extremely excited now that the schedule has come out.

Looking forward to beginning my 22nd year of broadcasting and to be doing it with ESPN. With that, we’ll open it up to questions.

Troy, did you have a sense last year maybe late in the season it was going to be your last year with FOX? And Joe, what were the talks like just to have you two still be together?

TROY AIKMAN: I wouldn’t even say late in the year did I think that I would not be continuing to work in some capacity with FOX. Most of the discussions were centered around splitting the schedule as I had been doing for the previous four years along with Joe, only those Thursday nights of course are on Amazon.

So the discussion was working Thursday nights on Amazon, continuing with the doubleheader games on FOX, and then of course the playoffs and the Super Bowls.

As we moved through those conversations, trying to figure out the number of games to continue on the schedule that I had been was going to be challenging, and then the fact that it was going to be two different networks, which changed things, as well, from the schedule that I had been doing.

Then ESPN began conversations with me, and it was an opportunity that just was the best fit for me, to be with this property doing Monday Nights, getting a chance to still do playoff games, Super Bowls is ultimately what led me.

But I didn’t think that was going to happen until a little bit after the Super Bowl did I think that that was even a possibility.

JOE BUCK: And along those lines, when I knew Troy was gone, I think there was a little bit more intensity in my talks with FOX about was I going to stay there or was I going to try to continue my relationship on air with Troy. That opportunity came along, and then I was in conversations with FOX for maybe a month, and some in-person meetings, some phone calls, a lot of honest conversations, and I think the best thing that I can say about all that is I left there on really good terms.

It had to happen that way. I was signed there for another year.

I think they understood how much I wanted to come to ESPN. I think they understood how it was such a great fit in my life to be selfish and personal about it. But having a wife who has worked here for seven, eight years and having little boys at home, four-year old twins, to go with my daughters who are in their 20s, just kind of simplifying and paring things down in my life made a lot of sense, and then to get to come to Monday Night Football and to do it with a known quantity in Troy, it just made all the sense in the world.

Everything ended really well at FOX on a personal level, and on a professional level, getting to move on and kind of restart the engines and — I had a long talk with a lot of people, and the conversation I had with David Hill right at the end of it was what really sealed it.

What he said to me was, “You will be nervous before your first game, and when was the last time you were really nervous before your first time?” He said, “But these are opportunities, and you need to take it if you can get it.”

Fortunately I then had met Jimmy and I was like, that’s a guy I want to work for. As I said, my wife has been here, so it was like, let’s try to make this happen, and FOX was very gracious letting me out, and I was very excited to come here and do Monday Night Football.

It couldn’t have worked out any better for me and for my family. Like I said before, I just can’t wait to get going.

Troy, you’re very close to Jimmy and all those guys on the set. How difficult were those conversations? I know it’s a business, but was it hard to tell Jimmy, “I’m leaving”?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, yeah, it’s challenging for all of those — I love all those guys, all the talent, all the people behind the scenes, people that you don’t know.

The reality of it was with Jimmy that I would see him about twice a year, three if we were calling the Super Bowl. I’d see him at the seminar, I’d see him at the NFC championship game and then I’d see him if we were calling a Super Bowl. It wasn’t like I saw him a lot.

I will tell you the toughest call that I had to make was to Erin Andrews and tell her I was leaving. She’s like a sister to both of us, and you become very, very close with the people that are on your crew. My producer, Richie Zyontz, director Rich Russo, and all of the people that were on that crew for a long time. I mean, we’re talking about people that — others that had been on the crew for 15 years or so.

That was the most difficult part. I’ll miss not seeing Jimmy, but as you probably know, we were just down there in Florida, so I will still see plenty of Jimmy.

For Joe, did it happen as fast as you thought it would be, because Troy left and then there were some questions about whether or not you were going to go and then everything just, boom, happened quickly. Were you a little surprised by the timing of everything?

JOE BUCK: Yeah, I think there were two determined sides to try to make the resolution happen fast once that took place.

Yeah, it literally dropped out of the sky. The more I get around it — Troy and I were just blown away. We were in a conference room an hour ago with 20 plus people from all different parts of the support staff for Monday Night Football, and it was overwhelming. I actually got emotional talking about it.

It’s been a while since on this campus they’ve had everybody here, and to have everybody here kind of welcoming us with open arms and saying, hey, I run such-and-such department, I’m here for you, and I run such-and-such, and after 27 years you’re the new kid in school. We’re sitting in a cafeteria, like if you wonder if anybody is going to sit next to you because you don’t know anybody.

It was just overwhelmingly positive and very welcoming.

Did it happen fast? Yes. But I think sometimes these things kind of take on a life of their own and they take on a timing of their own, and in this specific case, the timing of it was extremely quick by the time I met with Eric Shanks and Brad Zager and had talked tangentially to Laughlin Murdoch.

Like I said, everybody leaves friends, and that was the thing that Eric said when he called me at the end when they had worked out this deal for I think it’s a Penn State-Purdue football game, which I went to Indiana, they could have worked in a Hoosier game or something along the way as compensation, but yeah, it went fast. I didn’t see it coming and got —

TROY AIKMAN: You would have been disappointed if all you went for was a Hoosier game.

JOE BUCK: Or UCLA, either way.

Over the last couple years, and the post certainly has not been a passive observer in all this —

JOE BUCK: Really? You guys are on top of this stuff?

The chatter around announcer free agency frenzy has really ramped up over the last couple years. I’m interested in your take in that and how much you guys read the coverage and react to it, and then also I wanted to know what your two reactions were to the news that Tom Brady is going to join FOX when he retires.

TROY AIKMAN: Well, I will say I don’t really keep up with it. I don’t want to disappoint anyone there at the Post. Joe usually lets me know what’s happening.

JOE BUCK: I just send him kind of my own Cliff Notes.

TROY AIKMAN: Yeah, but I guess my response to it is it’s interesting. I mean, it’s been interesting to see all that’s been going on. There has been a lot of movement, a lot of discussion, of course, over the last couple of years. It’s turned into quite a business for Andrew Marchand.

As far as Tom, it’s not something I thought that he was maybe considering doing, but I think he’ll be great. I have a great relationship with Tom. Love when we call his games. I’ve gotten a chance to even get to know him more since he went to Tampa and playing in the NFC. I think he’ll be fantastic. I think he was an outstanding hire.

JOE BUCK: Yeah, I’m just as surprised as everyone else, and I’m in the game, so to speak, with this announcer movement.

Somebody said to me the other day, we as fans need a sports person to tell us where all these sports announcers are ending up because everybody has kind of shifted and moved places, and Amazon is now involved, and they’ve got a great team. My dad passed away 20 years ago, I think he’d be stunned if he walked out of the grave right now and said, wow, that’s what’s going on in this business? Nobody saw that coming.

But I think it gets back to kind of a supply and demand and having a known quantity, and knowing as much as I wanted to go work with Troy and continue that relationship, I think that’s what was appealing to ESPN, if I can speak on their behalf; that they’re getting a booth that they pretty much know what they’re going to get when opening day rolls around in Seattle.

It’s been kind of crazy. It’s been exciting on this end of the business.

As far as Brady, would anybody ever bet against the guy being great at anything? He’s kind of cornered the market in that.

But it’s a new thing, and with new opportunities come new responsibilities. I think it’ll be a steep learning curve, and I’m sure he’ll be fantastic.

I tend to root for everybody right on down the line. I genuinely feel happy for him.

What are your thoughts on that opening game in Seattle, in particular, and also having covered so many Seahawks games with Russ over the years, what are you expecting from him with the Broncos?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, I think he’s going to be fantastic. Was thrilled with the schedule, to see that as the opener. When you start looking at what potential games there are going to be, that was one that I certainly circled and thought, man, that would be a great game if we were able to get it on Monday night.

And to have it right out of the box I think is awesome, and to be playing there in Seattle with Russell going back, obviously it’ll be very emotional for him. He’ll be fantastic.

He’s obviously had a great career. He’s won a lot of football games, won a lot of playoff games. He’s been in the postseason. He’s just won, and that’s something Denver hasn’t done much of over the last five, six years since Peyton retired. There in Denver, I expected the Broncos to be much improved because of that, start building pieces around him.

But I think the scene in Seattle is going to be awesome. You always wonder what the reception is going to be like. I can’t imagine it being anything other than just a great celebration for a great athlete and all that he meant to the 12s there in Seattle. I think it’ll be awesome.

JOE BUCK: He’s just the model of consistency. Like Troy said, you start putting his numbers up, and you realize what he’s done the first decade of his career has been sensational, and you go back to his college days, the guy just wins. Not only being a guy that wins, he answers the bell every game. This was the first year that he was hurt. We were there when he got hurt, and it was weird to see them operate without Russell Wilson on the field.

He got hit a lot, and he was looking out of the earhole of his helmet half the time after getting up after big hits and he went right back in the huddle and went right back to work. All these head coaches talk about availability. No one has been more available than Russell Wilson.

He’ll be great for Denver. I’m married to a Denver Broncos fan. I hear a lot about the Denver Broncos, and so I’ve got a lot of extended family now in Denver.

The ticket requests, Stephanie, I’m sorry to say, have already come rolling in from people that I’ve never met back in Denver that are friends with my wife or pretend to be friends with my wife. I think it’s going to be amazing. I think it’s going to be a wonderful way to start Monday Night Football.

You know what’s funny is if they end up getting the opening kickoff, Denver, our first moments on Monday Night Football probably won’t involve us talking very much because I think you need to hear that natural reaction, and I think you need to lay out, let the crowd carry it. There’s no crowd like in Seattle, and I would imagine we won’t be talking very often at least that first series because it’s going to be deafening inside that stadium, good or bad.

TROY AIKMAN: America just rejoiced.

Tennessee and Buffalo, Week 2, what do you think of that match-up, and what do you think of the teams have done in the off-season, specifically Von Miller and the signing and the AJ Brown trading away?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, I think it’s going to be a great match-up. Obviously that night ESPN has the two games, ESPN and ABC, two games on the one night, the other one being Minnesota at Philadelphia.

But that’s a great match-up. Two playoff teams from a year ago, both teams I guess you could say ended in disappointment not getting to where they had hoped that they would.

But I’ve really enjoyed following Buffalo. Big fan of what they’re doing at every level of their organization. Love Josh Allen, as does the rest of America and the way that that team is built.

We’ve gotten to cover them, covering the Thursday night games over the last few years, and just a lot of fun.

To cover them and then Tennessee with their disappointing end last season and the various moves, yeah, Von Miller going to Buffalo is only going to make them better. As far as moves, you start talking about the moves that have been made and the AJ Brown trade and all that, every team — I don’t think there’s a team in the league that doesn’t honestly look at their roster and feel that they’re better than they were a year ago. That’s obviously not true, but they all feel that way.

So we’ll find out. But for that game to be early in the season, a really marquee match-up. Both games great, but that’s a great match-up early in the season from what we saw a year ago.

JOE BUCK: For Buffalo it’s their home opener after that incredible divisional game and that loss in overtime that forced a rule change. You know it’s a hell of a game when something like that forces a rule change the very next season.

I’ve gotten to know Josh Allen a little bit over this past off-season, and I just can’t imagine a better person or player to build a franchise around. He genuinely loves being in Buffalo, and Buffalo loves having him, and then I think the AJ Brown obviously, that trade surprised everybody.

But a healthy Derrick Henry and Tannehill and everything else they have going on in Tennessee, good head coach that gets that team ready, that has the feel and the makings of a preview for something that will happen in January.

Our schedule came out, and it was like, wow. I was genuinely excited. Troy and I were talking on the phone when it came out, like man, there’s not a bad game on here.

The way we start the season right out of the gate with that being Week 2 is a tremendous way for us to start.

Joe, speaking of January and February, you referenced earlier rooting for everyone. What’s your take on the guy who will be replacing you on FOX’s lead booth and whether he’s ready for this stage that he’s about to be thrown into?

JOE BUCK: I’m so happy for those guys, and I say guys because it’s not just Kevin. It’s obviously Joe Davis on the baseball side. I’ve been doing that since ’96. I got to him. I was maybe aware of Kevin’s ascendance prior to Kevin, maybe, and I wanted to congratulate him like that day when it was announced I was coming to ESPN.

But I respected all that and waited, but I’m just glad to be out of people’s way. They always talk about the guys who are stuck in the minor leagues playing behind Stan Musial in St. Louis or Ted Williams in Boston and people don’t get a chance. And I’m not comparing myself to them as all, but getting out of the way and letting younger guys come up and get their shot at the big time, as you know, Kevin is just a wonderful human being. There’s not anybody who works with Kevin that doesn’t love him.

So I’m excited for him, whether it’s with Greg Olsen this year or whomever and Brady eventually, and for Joe to work with John Smoltz, that’s kind of one of the real bright sides to this with regard to my time at FOX is I did what I did; I’m proud of what I did; I’m proud of the body of work, and now let’s go somewhere else and start a new chapter and let’s see somebody else step into those roles at my old place, and I couldn’t be — I’ll be their biggest fans.

In Week 7, you’re going to get one of those class of ’21 quarterback match-ups with Mac Jones against Justin Fields. I’m curious what appeals to you about that specific quarterback match-up. And Troy, for you specifically with Justin rebooting and changing everything in year two with the new system, new coach, how are you going to measure his growth this year?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, it’s a good question. I went through a little bit of that early in my career. Had a different quarterback coach my second year, had then a different coordinator my third year. There will be discussions, I’m sure there already has been in Chicago, about Justin Fields having to learn a new offense, new scheme, those kinds of things.

It’s only problematic if they bring in someone who’s good — if they bring in an offensive guy who’s good that can coordinate the offense and get the best out of the players that they have, then it’s a good move. You know, for instance, when Norv Turner came to Dallas in ’91, my third year, it was welcomed with open arms. He was fantastic, and we immediately went from the worst offense in football to a top-10 offense. We’ll find out in time.

But the judgment as far as whether you’re a first-year player, second-year player, I understand it, as you get more years under your belt, you get better, but he’ll be judged the same way every second-year player is judged, and ultimately it’s based on wins, but does he help the team win; does he play the position the way the position needs to be played in those moments when winning and losing is hanging in the balance.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he can do that because he has done it. He’s done it at a high level in college. There was a lot of inconsistencies around him last year.

Mac Jones, I think he surprised some people. I think that if you went back and had that draft over, I think Mac Jones would go a lot higher in the draft. I was totally impressed with what I saw of him. Clearly he’s been well-coached. He was well-coached in college, he was well-coached in New England.

They did a great job of bringing him along, and now he’s having to go through some changes, too, with Josh McDaniels leaving and going to Vegas, that will look and feel a little bit different for Mac Jones, as well.

It seems like each year there’s really great players. We got Tom Brady, of course. Drew Brees last year left. Tom, who knows if this is his last year, but he’ll be exiting soon. Peyton Manning a few years back. We always see the great ones leave. When I was playing, Elway and Marino and Steve Young and those guys, but there’s always another generation of young talent.

And these guys, Josh Allen, of course, falls into that category, as well, with Patrick Mahomes. But I think the league has been in good hands and continues to be in good hands with the young quarterbacks that we have in the game right now.

JOE BUCK: But I think just to be real quick on my end of it, one thing we’ll never know because he’ll never say, is did Bill Belichick luck into Mac Jones? Did he know that Mac Jones was still going to be there?

Because all the speculation in that draft was that San Francisco was going to grab him before anybody else with Trey Lance being the pick. And Mac Jones slides down; Bears make the move, they get Fields. New England gets Mac Jones, and Mac Jones was awesome. I mean, handled a lot, and playing for Bill Belichick and what he demands.

Second year, as Troy said, change, with no Josh McDaniels, but he’s already proven himself to some degree, so you have those two going head to head, and two big markets on a Monday night. Can’t wait.

Stephanie, there’s been several different iterations of the Monday Night Football booth. Now with this team, with Troy and Joe, do you think you have the best NFL broadcast booth in the country? And for the guys, as Jimmy said, they are the longest-tenured broadcast team out there, 20 years, six Super Bowls. Is there any thought that FOX took them for granted a little bit?

STEPHANIE DRULEY: A quick answer: Yes. We have the best booth in football. We believe that. We sat down towards the end of the season to sort of think about where we were going, and as you were — I think we were challenged to say what’s your pie in the sky, and I’m now sitting next to the pie in the sky.

Plan for the best, and yeah, my answer is yes, we have the best booth.

JOE BUCK: I never felt taken for granted. I really didn’t. They tell you how much you’re worth to them every time a check arrives, and I don’t need anybody to pat me on the back and say, boy, you guys were really phenomenal in the Super Bowl or the World Series.

I think they prove all that stuff by letting you continue to do it and the relationships that we have. It was very collegial and very friendship driven, much more so than employer/employee at FOX, and I expect the same will continue here at ESPN.

But I never felt that way. But it is nice to come to a place where everything is fresh and new for Troy and me, and that part of it, getting to learn new people, new styles with our producer and our director, with Phil and Jimmy, and try to make all that work, that’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge with a very bright spotlight on you as you try to figure out your new work environment in front of tens of millions of people on live TV.

But that’s fun. That’s what this business is all about. No, I didn’t feel that way, and yes, it’s nice to start something new.

TROY AIKMAN: Yeah, I didn’t feel taken for granted at all. I came in my first year in 2001. Ed Goren and David Hill gave me an opportunity right off the playing field to work with Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston on the No. 2 crew, and then a year later John Madden left for Monday Night Football. And I got a chance to get paired with Joe and Cris Collinsworth, and Joe and I have been together ever since doing the No. 1 booth.

We wouldn’t have been there as long as we had been if they took us for granted or didn’t appreciate the work that we were doing.

I know that things change. I laugh about that. I wrote a children’s book with that title. So I understand it. I know it happens, and it’s all good.

This is an opportunity with ESPN that I’m really excited about. I mean, like Joe said, we’ve been doing it for so long one way. To see how someone else does it and to work with different people, I feel like it’s 2001 again.

And kind of starting over my broadcasting career, and it probably comes at a really good time for me personally and probably for Joe, as well, for all the reasons that he stated with his wife being here and young kids and all that.

I have nothing but respect for the people I worked for at FOX, and appreciate the way I was treated during the 21 years that I was there, but I am excited about the next chapter.

Troy, this is mostly for you. One of the Monday night games will be Washington playing at Philly; Carson Wentz going back to Philly. I’m curious what you think Washington got in Carson Wentz. Can he get back to that trajectory where people thought he was on a couple years ago?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, it’s a good question. I think that’s the million-dollar question.

I think that right now, Carson had an opportunity; it didn’t end well in Philadelphia, of course. He then got traded to Indianapolis. Didn’t go great for him there. They decided to make another change at that position, and now he’s landed in Washington.

This is probably his last opportunity, just being blunt about it, to prove that he can be a franchise quarterback in the NFL.

I’m hopeful that he’s able to take advantage of that. Looking forward to that match-up between those two teams. But this is kind of a defining season, I think, for Carson Wentz and what his future is going to look like.

I’ve got two 49ers’ questions. They’re going to be doing I think a Week 4 game against the Rams and then you’re going to be down in Mexico for the Cardinals-49ers. My question is about the quarterback situation and what you’re expecting with Trey Lance, and Joe, what are your curiosities about this 49er team?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, I will say I’m excited that we have San Francisco for those games. I’m a big fan of Kyle Shanahan’s. I love what they do offensively. I love the style that they play. It reminds me a lot of the teams that I was a part of. And really enjoyed the way that they came on last year.

I’ve said it before, if I was a general manager and could hire any head coach in the league right now, Kyle Shanahan would be the guy that I’d probably hire.

I think the quarterback situation is interesting. I watched him last year after he came in and played, and I studied him. Was unsure as to whether or not he was going to play in the game that we had late in the season, and I saw some things that made you realize that hey, this is why this guy was taken where he was, and then you saw at other times a young quarterback that still had a lot of growth left ahead of him.

So this off-season and how he’s used it is going to go a long way into what kind of success he’s going to have. I don’t know Trey. I’ve not met him. But from everything I hear and in talking with Kyle, there’s a reason why they took him where they did. They’re betting on the upside, and my guess is that he’s worked extremely hard this off-season and will give himself the best opportunity for success.

I will say that given that he’s a young player but with the style that they run, with the running game and their ability to play defense, I mean, it doesn’t get better for a young quarterback. So those are things that really play into his favor.

Now I would really hope that Deebo Samuel is back, if I were him. But I don’t know the Jimmy Garoppolo situation. I love what he’s been able to do. He’s won a lot of games. I don’t know how that looks. But if Jimmy is the guy playing, I think he’s proven what he’s capable of doing. And I will say I’m a big fan of his, as well, for the way that he handled everything. It was incredible.

If he’s in San Francisco and he’s getting to play, I hope he plays amazing. If he gets a chance to go somewhere else, I hope he lights it up. You can just tell he’s a really good person and I’m really pulling for him.

JOE BUCK: I thought at the end of the year last year you could make the case that Deebo Samuel was the most valuable player in the NFL, certainly the most dynamic for what he was doing in game. We got ready for a bunch of their games, so we got a lot of time with Kyle, and his production meetings with us are just off the charts. He’s very open, very honest. Talked with us about the quarterback situation.

I personally don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Jimmy Garoppolo just automatically gets shipped out. They’re too good. They’re too ready to win right now with the way they finished last year coming up just shy in a championship game, and now you’ve got to start the clock back over with a young quarterback. I just hope like Troy said Deebo is there. He’s a special guy. Really fun to talk with. Somebody who — I know there’s a lot of speculation that he doesn’t like how he’s been used.

When he talked to us, he didn’t mind the running back stuff, and said sometimes he comes out of games less sore than he comes out of games when he’s just split out or just playing the role of a wide receiver.

I hope that team that we saw at the end of the year is back together because they’re fun to watch. They’re fun to cover. They’re really well-coached. They can make a legitimate claim in my opinion to be one of the top teams in the NFC and see what happens in the playoffs.

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Garoppolo is out of there. If he is, it’s a lot on Trey, but he’s got a good man that’s putting a game plan together to make it as easy a transition as he can make it.

Troy, I wanted to go back to the Seattle opener with the Broncos for a second. The Broncos are getting new ownership. They have a new head coach, three new coordinators, not just a new quarterback. I think we’ve got to go back 30-some years ago to the Cowboys when you were in Dallas, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones that whole quick turnaround, relatively speaking. Do you think in this day and age that the Broncos with that kind of change can similarly turn things around in quick order?

TROY AIKMAN: I do. I do. I know you didn’t do this, but to compare what that change was like in Dallas at that time is obviously not fair to what’s happening in Denver right now. They’ve got a few Hall of Famer who’s coming in, as opposed to a kid who had never taken a snap at the NFL level, and then coaches who have NFL experience.

Nathaniel Hackett, what’s his offense look like and all that. It goes back to what he said a little bit earlier as far as with the new offense in Chicago, with Justin Fields; that if the people are good, if Nathaniel Hackett, who I like, but stepping in and then taking over as a head coach, we’ve all seen it. It’s not always seamless. It’s not always easy. Some people are better offensively than they are running the whole show.

But if the right people were hired, then this could be really a great situation to where they just step in. And we’ve seen it over the years with teams that have hired new people and they go on and do really great things.

The way I look at it, and you’re in Denver so you see it up close more than I do, but I like Denver. I like what the — I expect them to have a good season, and a big part of that, of course, is because of Russell Wilson.

As we talked about, the guy has just won. He’s taken all but a couple teams to the postseason. I think he’s had one losing season. That was last year.

I think the guy is a winner, and I think he’s going to win in Denver.

Joe, I was wondering if you could comment, this seems to be the Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks in the AFC West now. I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on the loaded position here in this division.

JOE BUCK: Yeah, it’s fun. It helps with the scheduling. Everybody talks, oh, the schedule, the schedule, what kind of schedule. When you have a division like that with the kind of quarterback play and the teams around them, it’s not just the quarterbacks, but you can’t go wrong, and these teams are playing each other twice each. You can really just throw a dart and go, oh, that’s going to be a good game.

I mean, Herbert is phenomenal and has been since the second he took his first snap, dynamic, can do everything, big, strong kid who’s smart and really works hard it seems like. Russell is a proven commodity. Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr are the other two. There’s a lot to love there in that division.

It’s easily the best division with easily the best quarterback play within any division, and I’m really happy that we get a chance to kind of dive into a lot of those match-ups here on Monday night.

Just wanted to ask about the opener from the Seattle perspective and what you guys think of what the Seahawks have done, and as you guys mentioned you were there for the game Russell got hurt and what they looked like without him for the last 20 minutes or so of that game.

JOE BUCK: Yeah, I mean, but things are different. Part of the trade was to not just get Fant, the tight end, but to Drew Lock. And who knows, who knows if their roster is set with regard to that position with Seattle.

I just know this: With all our time together and since he came into the league, anytime Seattle has been on our schedule, that’s been a plus.

I’d just hope that continues. We love talking to Pete. John is a great GM. I think they have a plan up there, and now we’ll see how it’s executed.

I don’t know who forced that. Everybody speculates with regard to the trade and him ending up in Denver. It’s one of those where you could be nostalgic and say, I hope this guy spends his entire career in Seattle. That’s easy for the rest of us to say. This is a guy who’s been doing it week in and week out. However that came to pass.

I think they’ve taken a step back, and now they’ll have to see what they have on their roster or who they need to go get. I don’t know that that chapter has been totally written yet, either.

But I love doing those games up there.

TROY AIKMAN: Yeah, hey, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You don’t lose Russell Wilson and then say you’re better. But I do know this: When you come in as a young quarterback, then you lean on a running game. You play great defense. That’s been Pete Carroll’s formula for winning. It’s won a lot of football games over the history of our sport, and that’s certainly one that Pete believes heavily in.

But then as the quarterback becomes more and more experienced, they then want to throw the ball more. They want to impact the games more. That’s when it was decided to let Russ cook.

That looked great there for a while, but then the defense suffers because of that, and we saw that it didn’t last long, and it’s just contrary, I believe, to everything that Pete Carroll wants to be about. He doesn’t want to be one of these high-flying offenses.

I think now with Russell leaving and how that came about, I don’t know and I don’t care, but I do think it allows now a reset in Seattle for them to get back to playing the brand of football that they’re accustomed to playing, running the ball, playing great defense.

Drew Lock, he’s a younger guy. He hasn’t yet proven himself in the league. He’s going to be obviously much more open to whatever that philosophy is going to be.

I think we’re going to see a reset back to what we saw when Pete first took that job years ago.

STEPHANIE DRULEY: I would be remiss if I did not thank our booth from the last season, Steve and Louis and Brian. We are very grateful for how they covered the project over the last couple years.

And as you know, Brian has proved on to coach with the 49ers, who we’ll see a couple times this year, and Louis and Steve remain incredibly important to many of our projects.

Look, our new deal, and it starts this year, will have a second team calling Monday Night Football, and three games this year, five games the following year, I believe, and we’ll have an announcement about that team in the coming weeks.

I believe the last time you guys saw Lamar Jackson was in that Miami upset. A lot has happened since then. He’s had the injury. Had the kind of disappointing second half. He had Hollywood Brown traded away, and obviously he still hasn’t signed an extension. From where you guys are sitting, what is kind of the most interesting part about what his 2022 could be as you look ahead to the season?

JOE BUCK: I thought his tweet was interesting during the draft, WTF. He’s losing his top threat on the outside. And you’re right, a lot has happened since then.

This is a big year for him. It’s obviously a big year for the Ravens. They’re a really good team, and by all accounts, time will tell. They had a great draft and have added a lot of talent. They did lose Hollywood, so we’ll see how that all shakes out.

But I think there’s a bit of pressure on him to kind of erase what happened in the second half of last year, and who knows how healthy he was.

A lot of times you watch somebody perform all year, and then it comes out that, oh, yeah, well, they had a torn this or a broken that and they just played through it, and there are a lot of examples with that.

We don’t know, I think, the extent of how hurt he was in the back end of that last year, but man, standing in that booth and watching him do what he does when he’s right, there’s only one Lamar Jackson. And to see his speed, his ability to cut, I mean, it just looks like there’s somebody playing at a different speed.

I for one as a football fan, and as a John Harbaugh fan, hope that he gets back to that. I assume he will, and then we’ll see where they go on the outside without Hollywood Brown.

TROY AIKMAN: Yeah, I mean, the Ravens are one of those teams that have — they’ve won a lot of games over the years. Last year ended tough, as we know, and they’ve just come up short in the postseason. I think a lot of John Harbaugh and what he’s been able to — I think a lot of that organization, expectations are obviously extremely high. They’re going through some changes.

It’s interesting, I think when you get to this position and you’re trying to figure out what are you going to do at the quarterback position, are you going to extend him; what goes into that. There’s a lot that goes into that that we don’t see. I don’t know what all is going on there behind the scenes, but the offense is a little unique, especially for wide receivers, as we know.

They’re not a team that’s going to throw the ball like some other teams are going to, and does that affect them, and being able to get some guys to come in, I don’t know.

But like Joe said, when we’ve covered Baltimore, Lamar is just one of those players that’s just so different than everybody else. We’ve seen great players at that position who can do great things running and throwing the ball. But this guy is special, and we’ve seen it when we’ve covered those games. He’s pretty dynamic, and I know we have them — we have them against somebody I saw in the schedule, but hoping that he’s playing great, looking forward to it.

JOE BUCK: New Orleans. We have him against New Orleans, the New Orleans Saints.

You’ve got the Saints against the Bucs Week 13 in Tampa. Last time they were in Tampa they won 9-0. They seemed to have the Bucs’ number. What’s going on with that rivalry, and is New Orleans a serious threat to winning the NFC South?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, I hope they score more than nine points in our game. I hope it’s not one of those 9-0 barn burners.

Yeah, you know, they’re like a lot of teams right now, the Saints obviously, with Jameis Winston now coming back. I’m hearing today that since I’m here at ESPN, all over ESPN about Drew Brees, is he going to come back and play and what that might look like, and who knows.

I know this: I know they lost a hell of an offensive mind when Sean Peyton retired; so how does that impact them offensively.

I think this team is going to look and feel a little different. I thought that was the case last year without Brees.

Now you take the guy like Sean Peyton who has such a presence within that organization, and when we call those games, it’s going to be different, as well.

We have great respect for Dennis Allen. He deserves the opportunity. Having been a head coach before, I think that will serve him well.

There are teams that just match up for whatever reasons they match up well against another team. That seems to be the case with the Saints when they play Tampa Bay.

You look at it, I think on paper at times you’d say, well, Tampa Bay is probably the better team, but New Orleans just matches up well against them. They’ve got confidence against them. They play well.

So how that division shakes out, I mean, it’s anybody’s guess, but those games are great games, and I don’t expect this season to be any different.

Troy, some great players have made great analysts and some have been less successful at it. What’s the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in that regard making the transition, and how do you think Brady will handle that?

TROY AIKMAN: Well, there’s a lot to try to unpack with that question, and I won’t try to do it completely. I know that knowing football is important, but it’s not at the top of the list as to why someone is good at broadcasting or not good at broadcasting.

I think having an understanding of television helps. Having an understanding of timing and what’s happening in the game and what the game requires, it helps. It also helps if you’re working alongside a Hall of Famer.

Like my career in football, if you’re surrounded by good people, you have a chance to have success. In broadcasting if you’re surrounded by good people, talented people, you have a chance to have success.

I think there have been people who have come into this profession and haven’t been surrounded by the best people and have struggled, and if they had gotten opportunities with others, maybe their careers would have looked a lot different.

As for Tom, I have nothing but respect for Tom. Tom has won at everything he’s done in life, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t win at this, as well.

The reason I believe that he’s going to be good is because he’s going to work. He’s a guy, as we know, he’s the reason why he’s been playing as long as he has. There’s a reason why he’s won seven Super Bowls, and it’s because he doesn’t take any shortcuts, and he’s not going to in broadcasting.

I think that blueprint is one that not everyone follows, but I think he’ll be great.

Troy kind of touched on it, but Joe, the first time that you’ll see the Saints is that Monday Night Football game Week 9 against the Ravens. What are you looking forward to about that match-up and about the Saints team under Dennis Allen with some of the recent signings that they have had?

JOE BUCK: Yeah, it’s exciting. They’ve just added Landry, Tyrann Mathieu’s now down there. So they’ve got two big pieces that they’ve added recently.

Still, I hate to be simplistic about this, but I think it’s going to come down to how Jameis Winston plays as to how good they are. Assuming that Drew Brees was kidding, I think Dennis Allen said that today, he’s assuming that I-may-want-to-come-back-and-play tweet, or whatever came on was kind of said in jest. But it wouldn’t break any of our hearts to see Drew Brees come back and be great.

Everybody will latch on to that, but it comes down to Jameis Winston. I think Jameis learned a lot under Drew Brees and learned a lot with Sean Peyton and will take a lot of that stuff forward with him.

So they’ve got an offensive line. They’ve got a dynamic running back. Everybody forgets that Michael Thomas is still a phenomenal player; if he gets back to anything like he was before the injuries just crept up and derailed him. And now you add Jarvis Landry and the defense is good, and well-coached with Dennis Allen who is now the head coach.

The more you talk about it and I say it out loud, you realize they’ve got a lot of pieces in New Orleans to be good, provided Jameis Winston is a plus, and he doesn’t have to carry the team. They’ve got a running back that can help shoulder a lot of that load.

I expect them to be competitive. I expect them to maybe surprise, and like Troy said, there’s nobody we love talking to any more than Sean Peyton, and now he’s going to be talking to all of us on TV.

But they’re in a good position, and a lot is going to be on Jameis, but I think he can handle it. I think he’s grown up a lot.

THE MODERATOR: That’s going to wrap up our media call. We appreciate Joe and Troy and Steph joining.

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Lily Blum

Based in New York City, Lily Blum is a Senior Publicist with a focus on ESPN’s NFL portfolio.
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