Shannon Sharpe in contract talks. Will he stay with Skip?

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Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Shannon Sharpe is in discussions with Fox Sports to extend his contract as Skip Bayless’ sparring partner on UNDISPUTED, according to sources.

Sharpe’s current contract with Fox expires in July. Both sides are keen on striking a new deal, according to sources

However, a deal isn’t done — and there’s no guarantee the three-time Super Bowl winner will stay with Fox Sports and continue sitting across the debate desk from Bayless on their weekday FS1 morning show.

One sticking point in the Sharpe negotiations could be salary. Bayless is believed to make more than twice as much as Sharpe, say sources. According to Richard Deitsch of The Athletic, Fox agreed to pay Bayless $5.5 million annually over four years to lure him from ESPN in 2016, plus a $4 million signing bonus.

The Sharpe talent negotiations will mark a big moment for Mark Silverman, who took over as president of Fox Sports national networks in January 2018.

The network declined comment.

For some viewers, Bayless vs. Sharpe on UNDISPUTED will never equal the previous “embrace debate” fireworks of Bayless vs. Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take. But in less than three years on the air, Sharpe has done a strong job helping turn UNDISPUTED into FS1’s leading studio show.

“Shannon was meant to be a foil for Skip. And he’s done that,” said a TV executive who declined to be named. “But he’s also come into his own and raised his national profile.”

The Pro Football Hall of Famer knows the NFL. Sharpe brings some needed humor to the debate desk.

Debuting in September 2016, UNDISPUTED quickly carved carved out a healthy audience. ESPN responded to the upstart by moving First Take to the flagship ESPN channel from ESPN2; a move that Bayless and Smith had long lobbied for when they were together.  Since then, First Take has expanded its lead.

Year-to-date, First Take is averaging 428,000 viewers to 173,000 for UNDISPUTED. Both shows posted slight increases in May, with First Take averaging 442,000 to 174,000 for UNDSIPUTED.

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Silverman has inherited almost all of FS1’s studio shows and their casts from former FS1 boss Jamie Horowitz, including UNDISPUTED, The Herd, Speak for Yourself with Jason Whitlock and Marcellus Wiley and First Things First with Cris Carter, Nick Wright and Jenna Wolfe.

FS1 also launched two new studio shows last fall: the gambling focused Lock It In with Rachel Bonnetta, Clay Travis, Todd Fuhrman and Cousin Sal and Fair Game with Kristine Leahy.

During the first quarter of 2019, UNDISPUTED and The Her both grew by 3%, according to Joe Reedy of the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Horowitz was recently hired by former ESPN president John Skipper to serve as the new executive vice president of content for DAZN North America.

“We’ve grown past ‘embrace debate.’ I think we’re a more mature network now,” Silverman told AP. “I think we have some shows with a little more element of debate and others that are smart, entertaining and interesting to sports fans.”