ESPN snagged the Monday Night Football broadcast rights in 2006 for over $1 billion per year, and the network doesn’t want to let the franchise go. According to Pro Football Talk, the Worldwide Leader will begin negotiating with the National Football League this week when the owners meet in Chicago. ESPN will have an exclusive period of one to two months to negotiate, after which other suitors can get involved.

Don’t expect it to get to that point, however. ESPN has the cash, the desire, and the branding. Now that it has the NFL, it’s not giving the sport up.

Ironically, while Fox, CBS, and NBC are killing it in the ratings so far this season, MNF is down 5.7 percent from last year (although up 14 percent from 2008). That will change tonight, however, as the New York Jets-Minnesota Vikings matchup should draw viewers in massive numbers.