Rising TV talent Nate Burleson poised to become next sports, entertainment 'crossover' star
Every once in while a sports TV personality "crosses over," as they say, into the world of entertainment.
They have the talent, the style, the chops to relate with Hollywood stars as seamlessly as they do pro football or basketball players. They're as comfortable on a red carpet as they are on a sideline. As dual threats, they get more opportunities.
Think Michael Strahan, Erin Andrews and Charissa Thompson of Fox Sports or Robin Roberts of ABC. This small but exclusive group could be joined by another up and comer: MAXX Client Nate Burleson of CBS Sports and NFL Network.
Only two months ago, the 37-year old Burleson was a ubiquitous TV presence during Super Bowl week. On Super Bowl Sunday, he co-starred on "The Super Bowl Today" pregame show with James Brown, Bill Cowher, Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason. All week from Atlanta, he co-hosted his popular "Good Morning Football" morning show on NFL Network with Kay Adams, Peter Schrager and Kyle Brandt.
The offseason typically means a dry spell for NFL analysts like Burleson. Right? Wrong.
Instead, the former wide receiver/kick returner appeared last week as a "special correspondent" on the entertainment show "Extra." Sporting a two-tone jacket and ripped jeans, the stylish Burleson interviewed actor/comedian Tracy Morgan about his TBS show, "The Last O.G."
During their sitdown, Morgan told Burleson how "Us" director Jordan Peele helped him recover from the horrific 2014 car crash that killed his friend James McNair.
Said Morgan: "That man was a part of my healing process, a big part of the healing process after I got hit by that truck. My youngest son turned me on to ‘Key & Peele’ and I watched it every day and I wanted to meet him — that’s how it connected."
"So laughter was healing for you during that process?" asked Burleson.
"It's healing for all of us," Morgan answered.
It's been a meteoric TV rise for the Calgary, Alberta native. Only five years ago, Burleson was pondering his next move after playing 11 years in the NFL for the Lions, Vikings and Seahawks. Now he's co-starring on two of the biggest NFL studio shows. Mark Lepselter, the MAXX agent who represents Burleson, told Sporting News he believes he has the "appetite, the ability and the gravitas to do whatever he wants in the sports and entertainment broadcasting world."
One of the smartest things the NFL does for ex-players is hold an annual "broadcast boot camp" for players looking to move from the playing field to the media.
While still playing for the Lions, Burleson attended the camp and landed local TV/radio gigs. When the locker room leader was cut by the Lions in 2014, he was ready for life after football.
His big break came when NFL Network tabbed him for the debut of "Good Morning Football" in August 2016. Like other former players/coaches turned TV analysts, Burleson was reluctant to rip his former teammates and pro athletes.
"When I first got to the NFL Network, I was just like every other player protecting brand, protecting the fraternity," Burleson recalled to Jimmy Traina on the Sports Illustrated Media podcast. "I was always complimenting guys and I never wanted to step on people's feelings.
"I remember, one of my mentors was like, 'Say something.' I was like, 'What do you mean? I am saying something. I was clever. I'm clever, I make people laugh, I smile." He was like, 'You did that in the locker room, but say something, man. You know the game. Take a risk and criticize these players. They'll respect you more when they see you.' I was like, 'Damn, this feels so awkward.'
"It literally was a cringeworthy feeling when I had to criticize a guy, even when I knew the player was in the wrong, like he dropped the ball or said something stupid."
As the only ex-NFL player on the show, Burleson quickly stood out. TV big shots took notice.
Within a year, Burleson landed a national broadcast role on CBS's "The NFL Today," the granddaddy of all football pregame shows. Burleson is decades younger than the show's other stars. He injected a youthful vibe to a show's graying cast.
More importantly, he added a just-off-the-field insider's knowledge of today's pass-happy NFL. It was the same quality that helped make Tony Romo an instant hit in the CBS broadcast booth with Jim Nantz.
Talking NFL football five mornings a week with the league's top stars, coaches and GM's has turned Burleson into a walking encyclopedia.
"I think he’s got a lot of credibility having retired fairly recently from the game," CBS Sports boss Sean McManus said in an interview with NJ.com . "His credibility and his perspective on the league and its players is first rate. His presentation is smooth yet he can be very passionate about what he’s talking about and he feels strongly about his opinions. The fact that he lives and breathes NFL football seven days a week gives him a really solid perspective and a really good foundation of knowledge that he presents to an audience."
Burleson has a long-term contract with NFL Network to continue hosting "Good Morning Football," sources told SN. But his initial deal with CBS expires after the 2019 season, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post.
That means Burleson could become a sought-after free agent at the same time as Romo. Romo's reps are seeking a contract extension that would make him the highest-paid sports TV analyst in history at an annual salary of $10 million or more. Like Romo, CBS is interested in extending Burleson's contract, sources said. Like Romo, Burleson will have to think twice before leaving a network that's put him in his best light. CBS declined to comment.
On Super Sunday, some critics like Marchand thought Burleson was the "star" of CBS's pregame show. His performance on TV's biggest stage indicated he's ready to host entertainment shows. The best example is Strahan, the Super Bowl-winning former Giants star who hosts ABC's "Good Morning America" and "The $100,000 Pyramid," while retaining his sports gig on "Fox NFL Sunday."
Don't be surprised if "Extra" is just the first step into entertainment media for Burleson.
“I’ve said for some time now that I truly really believe Nate is going to cross over into the lifestyle/entertainment-hosting world in a significant way," Lepselter said. "We’re in the process of that happening. It’s something we‘re going about in a methodical way. We’ve had some high level meetings in LA and New York. I will leave it at that.”