Tom Brady or Greg Olsen? Fox has a future decision to make on its No. 1 analyst

The obvious story for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game centers on unexpected breakout stars.

There’s Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, 24, who entered the season with questions about his ability to be only an MVP candidate, whom his head coach now compares to no less than Michael Jordan.

There’s San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, 23, who was a third-stringer after being the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and is looking for his eighth straight victory as a starter.

And then there’s … Greg Olsen, 37, the retired, mostly small-market tight end who, in a wild shakeup in the NFL broadcasting ranks last year, became Fox’s lead game analyst and has quickly become a viewer and critic favorite for his insightful and relaxed manner.

Yes, that’s right, Olsen will be in the booth at Lincoln Financial Stadium describing the act of two professionally kindred spirits — each given a dream job, even though neither was really sold on their ability to do it, only to exceed wildest expectations.

Like Hurts (53rd overall draft pick in 2020) and Purdy (262 in 2022), Olsen wasn’t anyone’s first choice for his job.

But unlike Hurts and Purdy, it’s the broadcaster that may not control its own professional destiny.

Olsen didn’t become a full-time broadcaster until 2021. He got the shot at the top job only because longtime Fox partners Joe Buck and Troy Aikman left for ESPN last season in a mega-money deal.

Fox promoted Olsen along with play-by-plan man Kevin Burkhardt on a de facto interim basis.

The long-term plan was made clear last May when Fox signed none other than Tom Brady to a 10-year, $375 million contract to serve as the network’s lead game analyst “immediately following his playing career.”

Greg Olsen was cast as Fox’s No. 1 color analyst. Would Fox move him to No. 2 when Tom Brady finally retires? (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

At the time, Brady was expected to play the 2022 season and then, at age 45, finally retire. There was even speculation that he would call games already (Tampa Bay’s season ended in the wild-card round) and certainly at next month’s Super Bowl, which Fox will broadcast.

However, Brady has not decided whether he will play another year or not. Fox has said they have no plans to use him for this Super Bowl and the Burkhardt-Olsen team will call the game.

Still, an awkward inevitability hangs out there. Brady is the pick.

“Over the course of this long-term agreement, Tom will not only call our biggest NFL games with Kevin Burkhardt, but will also serve as an ambassador for us, particularly regarding customer and promotional initiatives,” Fox said last May.

It’s that other part — dealing with clients and doing promotional work — that helped Brady earn $37.5 million a year in salary, or double the $18 million a year ESPN reportedly paid Aikman to switch network.

Tom Brady is, of course, Tom Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion and internationally renowned icon. He is the one who can help close a massive sponsorship deal by playing golf with a CEO.

Greg Olsen is the guy who used to be a really good tight end for Carolina.

So it all made sense … until Olsen began charming audiences this season with an elite and likable broadcasting style. He was never better than during these playoffs. He was especially strong during the heated and potentially confusing final minutes of San Francisco’s 19-12 victory over Dallas on Sunday.

“Greg Olsen is the great caller of the NFL game of the week,” ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky tweeted last week. “… Prepared. Timely. Smart. Teaches. Story telling. Don’t think about him, think about the game. Huge.”

Looks like Fox has stumbled into its No. 1 color commentator for the future … except it’s already committed a small fortune to its No. 1 color commentator for the future, though no one has any idea if Brady will even be a good color commentator.

As a player, no one is better than Brady. And given his ability to excel in most things he applies himself to, it’s certainly likely that he’ll do a great job in his next job as well.

However, being a great player is not the same thing as being a great broadcaster. He hasn’t called real plays. He doesn’t have the reps that come from climbing the ranks.

He’s appeared in commercials, hosted “Saturday Night Live” and launched a podcast a few years ago, but that mostly consists of being interviewed by broadcaster Jim Gray. Making sense in a live game is a different animal.

And while the public may all know Tom Brady, that doesn’t mean they’re going to like him calling plays.

Brady, of course, was once in the Hurts/Purdy/Olsen square. The 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, he arrived in New England as a fourth-string quarterback with little hope of unseating highly paid veteran Drew Bledsoe.

When given the chance due to a Bledsoe injury, however, he never looked back.

Now he’s the big guy with the big money who can get in the way of the guy who similarly seized his professional opportunity.

Still, there’s almost no way Fox could pay Brady that much money and not have him broadcast the biggest game of the week. That likely sends Olsen to a minor game on Sunday and none in the highly visible postseason. Or Fox could try a potentially crowded three-man lineup.

Either way, it’s still a great gig for Olsen, and Fox must love that it has such depth.

It’s also an undeniably weird situation.

Either way, Olsen will be on the microphone on Sunday. So enjoy him calling the big game while you can. He is one of the NFL’s fresh stars this season, but unlike the others, he may not be front and center for long.

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