It’s become a running joke over the years how many coaching jobs ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden has been linked to in the rumor mill. In fact, pretty much every major job opening that takes place in college or pro football has been required to mention Gruden’s name as a possible replacement ever since he got to Bristol.

After all those years of rumors, reports, sources, and speculation, it’s finally happening. Gruden appears to finally be going back to coaching with the Las Vegas Raiders of Oakland, almost a decade after he last coached in the NFL in the 2008 season.

Surely with all of the rumblings about Gruden’s future, ESPN is well prepared to move quickly to replace him. Gruden had become a major presence at the network — both in terms of television airtime and in terms of salary. Chucky was reportedly ESPN’s highest-paid employee with a multi-million dollar contract to be the face of their NFL coverage.

ESPN has a big decision to make with where they turn to next. Will they try to make another Gruden-sized splash with a new hire that can fill his shoes across a variety of platforms? Will they try to take the conservative approach and promote from within? Or will they throw everyone a curveball with a surprise?

Here’s our list of five possible moves for ESPN to replace Jon Gruden that could fit any one of those potential answers.

Peyton Manning

Whenever a major television job opens, Peyton Manning’s name is going to be on the list of potential replacements, much like Jon Gruden’s name was on every single coaching list in the world. And like Gruden, Manning’s name is going to come up every time there’s a television opening until he takes one. In fact, it would be a shock if ESPN hasn’t already put in a call to Manning’s people.

Manning could come into ESPN and have a Tony Romo-like impact for the network. And with ESPN’s variety of platforms, they could give Manning a ton of exposure and opportunities beyond just Monday Night Football. If he goes all-in with ESPN, you can easily imagine Manning filling most of Gruden’s roles with MNF, the NFL Draft, and even various QB Camp specials and other specials too.
The question hangs on whether or not Manning wants it, though. It’s been a couple years out of football now for the all-time great quarterback and he still hasn’t made his next big move yet. If he doesn’t take the ESPN job, maybe we won’t ever see him in an analyst role.

Chuck Pagano

If ESPN wants to go with the former coach route and try to find the next Gruden, the former Colts coach may be the best pick among the lot of recently fired signal-callers.