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Jim Nantz’s potential free agency is Super Bowl LV’s other storyline

Nantz will call the game with a trace of uncertainty as he reportedly aims for a payday that surpasses partner Tony Romo.

Jim Nantz (right) will call his sixth Super Bowl and Tony Romo his second for CBS on Sunday.
Jim Nantz (right) will call his sixth Super Bowl and Tony Romo his second for CBS on Sunday.
Morry Gash/AP

Tony Romo’s timing as a broadcaster — after only three years in the business — has far exceeded his timing during a 10-year run as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback.

Romo was a revelation on CBS’ top NFL crew alongside Jim Nantz. Without a lick of broadcasting experience, Romo charmed viewers with his childlike enthusiasm and wowed them with his predictive powers. ESPN noticed and had an offer waiting for Romo if he became available when his contract expired last year, thinking he could save its floundering “Monday Night Football” booth.

That led to Romo receiving the richest contract for a sports TV analyst — reportedly $17.5 million annually for 10 years. That report was published Feb. 28. Two weeks later, the coronavirus shut down the sports world, and sports broadcasting was sent reeling.

But Romo was riding high.

Romo will call his second Super Bowl on Sunday, when the Chiefs and Buccaneers battle in Tampa, Florida. It should be more compelling than his first, a snoozer that saw the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 in Atlanta.

But there’s another compelling game being played in the background. According to the New York Post, Nantz wants to top Romo’s salary. The newspaper reported that Nantz, who is close with Romo, makes $6.5 million on a contract that expires this summer.

“In the last 30 years, Jim Nantz has become the face and voice of CBS Sports,” Nantz’s agent, Sandy Montag, told the Post in November. “The network has become synonymous with his voice and his leadership.”

That’s not just an agent blowing smoke. Nantz has been CBS’ lead NFL play-by-play voice since 2004 and will call his sixth Super Bowl. He has led the network’s coverage of the Masters since 1986. He has been on the top crew for the NCAA Tournament since 1991. Nantz works year-round; Romo works during football season.

CBS appears to have bought itself some leverage by re-signing No. 2 NFL voice Ian Eagle, the Post reported this week. Eagle, who also calls college basketball for the network, is an excellent broadcaster worthy of a No. 1 spot.

Nantz is, too, but the network put itself in a bind by giving Romo a historic contract. At the time, though, that was CBS’ only choice. It couldn’t let the most revered — and now highest-paid — game analyst since John Madden walk away.

CBS doesn’t figure to lose Nantz, either. First off, where would he go? Joe Buck is entrenched at Fox. Mike Tirico hosts everything on NBC and will replace Al Michaels in the “Sunday Night Football” booth sooner than later. ABC/ESPN largely has been subtracting salary, not adding. But Front Office Sports reported this week that ESPN would be interested in Nantz for its Masters and NFL coverage.

Nantz’s passion, however, is golf, and outside of the Golf Channel, no network broadcasts the sport like CBS, in quality and quantity. Nantz, 61, used to say he’d like to become the first announcer to call 50 Masters on TV. He’d hit the mark in 2035. But more recently, he has talked about continuing past that, if his health and the network — whichever one that is — cooperate.

In the meantime, Nantz will call the Super Bowl with a trace of uncertainty, aiming for a payday that surpasses the man sitting next to him.

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY ON CBS

10:30 a.m. – “That Other Pregame Show”

Cast includes former Bears guard Kyle Long.

11 a.m. – “Road to the Super Bowl,” by NFL Films

Annual look back at best sights and sounds of the season.

Noon – “Tony Goes to the Super Bowl”

Tony Romo talks with Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

1 p.m. – “The Super Bowl Today”

Highlights include interviews with President Joe Biden and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and features on Kenny Washington’s re-integration of the NFL in the 1940s, Whitney Houston’s memorable singing of the national anthem in 1991 and women trail blazers in the NFL. Nickelodeon’s game show “Unfiltered” also will present a special segment.

5 p.m. – “Super Bowl on CBS Kick-Off Show”

Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan sing the national anthem, H.E.R. sings “America the Beautiful” and Amanda Gorman recites an original poem that pays tribute to frontline workers, plus the coin toss and team introductions.

5:30 p.m. – Super Bowl LV

Halftime show: The Weeknd.