Murray has the ability to excel at both sports, but football is his best option
Less than eight months after being taken in the first round of the MLB draft, Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray appears to be on the verge of entering his name for the upcoming NFL draft. Should Murray do so by Monday's deadline, he will have to give up the $4.66 million signing bonus that came with the contract he signed with the Oakland A's, who took him ninth overall this past June. As part of the deal, the A's let Murray return to Oklahoma and play football, and everyone knows what happened after that.
Tasked with filling the big shoes of Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, Murray showed what he's capable of on the gridiron in his first season as the Sooners' starter. Taking full advantage of head coach Lincoln Riley's QB-friendly system, Murray threw for 4,361 yards, ran for 1,001 and accounted for 54 total touchdowns (42 passing, 12 rushing) while leading OU to a second straight Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff appearance. He also gave the Sooners back-to-back Heisman winners.
Because of his success on the football field, more people started to talk about his possible future in that sport and as a result, it appears that Murray is going to test the NFL waters. To do so, he will have to return his signing bonus to the A's, who will still control his MLB rights and are doing everything they can to convince him to stick with baseball. There are other hurdles that must be cleared for Murray to take part in the draft process, such as the Scouting Combine, but analysts are already projecting him as a first-round pick and possibly the first quarterback selected should he officially declare for the draft.
Here are five reasons why Murray should stick with the gridiron rather than the diamond.
1. No minor league system to navigate
With the NFL players are thrown directly into the fire. There’s no minor league or developmental system to work your way up. In baseball the average player spends anywhere from three to five years in the farm system, sometimes longer depending on variables such as progression, injuries, etc. While Murray may not start right away in the NFL, he'll at least get to enjoy the benefits of being a part of a team on the professional level rather than toiling in the minor leagues.
2. More financial incentives in the early stages
While Murray’s signing bonus with the A’s was close to $5 million, he would have to make that last him for a while. That’s because players in the early stages of minor league baseball (Rookie, Low-A, High-A, AA) only make a roughly five-figure salary annually. The life of luxury that we hear about when it comes to professional athletes doesn’t come so easily for baseball players. The bigger money wouldn’t start coming in until at least the AAA level, then Murray's earnings would still be limited through MLB's salary structure for younger players that involves several years of team control before a player reaches free agency, unless some sort of long-term contract is agreed upon prior. If he's taken in the first round of the NFL draft, he'll have the potential to make much more in his rookie deal alone, especially if he's an early pick.
Yes, NFL contracts aren't fully guaranteed, but Murray's earning potential as a quarterback, especially considering he appears to be a marketable one off of the field as well, is tough to pass up. Consider that while Bryce Harper could be on the verge of signing one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, he's doing so at 26 years old. When he was 22, which is what Murray will turn in August, Harper's salary was $2.5 million. Compare that to Lamar Jackson who was the last pick of the first round in last year's draft and signed a contract worth $9.47 million, including a $4.97 million signing bonus.
In the latest twist to this story, ESPN.com's Jeff Passan reported on Sunday that MLB had given approval to the A's to offer Murray a major league deal with significant guaranteed money in an effort to convince him to stick to baseball. MLB rules prevent teams from signing players right out of the draft to major league deals, but Murray's situation is considered unique given the success he enjoyed on the football field after signing his post-draft contract. Even if the A's are able to meet Murray's contract demands in that respect, the NFL's status as the country's most popular and watched sport and how this impacts his earning potential has to be considered.
3. Murray will reach free agency faster in the NFL
In the NFL, rookie contracts these days last between four to five years, with team options for either a fifth or sixth season. If the team declines the option and the two sides don't work out a contract extension, then the player becomes a free agent. That's now how it works in MLB. Once a player ascends from the minor leagues to the big club, he must accrue six full seasons of service time before he's eligible for free agency.
Prior to that, the player is under team control and his salary is determined through an arbitration process. This system has been the subject of much debate and scrutiny as the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and agents have accused teams of manipulating service time rules to dictate when a player is eligible for free agency.
One of the more recent examples of this is the case of Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. After being taken second overall in the 2013 draft, Bryant tore through the minor leagues to the point where he could have been called up in September '14 after rosters expanded. But the Cubs did not nor did he make the big league club after spring training the following year even though he did nothing but crush the baseball out in Arizona. Instead, he started the season in AAA before getting the call in the middle of April and he went on to win National League Rookie of the Year honors. Because of the timing, Bryant's free-agent clock, as it is called, was pushed back a full year, giving the Cubs another season of team control and thereby somewhat curbing his earning potential.
While there are NFL service time requirements, contract terms are much more defined meaning Murray would be able to potentially cash in as a free agent quicker.
4. Baseball doesn’t always work out
Over the years many college athletes who excelled in these same two sports found themselves in Murray’s situation. Some of these players initially chose baseball but either returned to football after things didn't work out on the diamond, or walked away entirely. Former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson became a sure-fire NFL prospect after taking over for Tom Brady in Ann Arbor. Instead he left the Wolverines before his senior year to pursue baseball in the New York Yankees system. After toiling in the minor leagues for a few seasons, Henson made just eight big league appearances between 2002 and '03 before switching back to football and playing in the NFL from 2004-08.
Former Stanford signal-caller Chad Hutchinson also was on the NFL’s radar in the late '90s. But he found the allure of baseball too tempting and wound up getting a $3 million signing bonus from the St. Louis Cardinals. During the 2001 season he made three relief appearances, but the results were less than stellar. After posting a 24.75 ERA in just four innings, Hutchinson gave football another shot and he had a short-lived NFL career from 2001-04.
Then there’s Kenny Kelly, the starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes when they upset then-No. 2 UCLA and knocked the Bruins out of national championship contention in 1998. He also passed up the NFL for baseball but only played in 26 MLB games between 2000-05 for the Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Nationals. He hasn’t played either sport since then.
5. There are plenty of quarterback-needy teams in the 2019 draft
The New York Giants and the Jacksonville Jaguars will most likely be in the market for new signal-callers. The Arizona Cardinals have the No. 1 overall pick and just hired a head coach in Kliff Kingsbury, who has already made it clear he's a fan. Teams like Oakland, Denver and Miami have unsettled quarterback situations or at the very least are probably looking to bring in some fresh blood at the position. Washington is another team to watch considering the uncertainty surrounding Alex Smith's future after he broke his leg in Week 11. Cincinnati is another team that will have a new head coach in charge and could be looking for a reboot at the quarterback position. Even teams with established quarterbacks like Detroit, the Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans or New England could be interested in Murray if they view him as their future starter. The point is that Murray doesn't lack for suitors, especially since he's already being labeled the No. 1 quarterback prospect in this draft.
Yes, Murray will have to test well at the Scouting Combine and answer questions about his size (5-10, 190) but he's already put together an impressive audition tape and has clearly gotten the attention of NFL scouts, coaches, and team executives. Murray also has the benefit of someone like Russell Wilson who has already shown that stature's not everything when it comes to having success in the NFL.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.