Throughout his time at the University of Oklahoma, Kyler Murray proved to be a generational-type talent, one whose athleticism and ability weren’t limited to just one sport. Much like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson before him, Murray has the rare gift of being a two-sport phenomenon, so much so that he’s been highly sought after both by Major League Baseball and the National Football League. It’s safe to say the 21-year-old is poised to be the next big thing – the question is, which sport will Murray ultimately choose?
If you asked the Oakland Athletics front office leading up to this week, the answer would have been baseball. Last June, the A’s selected Murray ninth overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, giving him a $4.66 million signing bonus with the full anticipation that he’d be heading to Spring Training next month. According to Sooner Sports, the center fielder hit .296 as a junior in 2018, finishing the season with an impressive 10 home runs, 47 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .398 in 51 games. But a major wrench was thrown into the mix on Monday when the Heisman-winning quarterback formally announced he would declare for the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft – an expected move given recent reports that Murray would potentially pursue a career in professional football.
Murray’s football career was much more eye-catching than his baseball career, thanks in part to several major awards like the Davey O’Brien Award (for top collegiate quarterback), Associated Press Player of the Year and First-Team All-American. At 5-foot-10 and just under 200 pounds, Murray is considered small by NFL standards, though there have been a few before him who have succeeded at that size – most notably, Drew Brees.
But the A’s – and more importantly, Major League Baseball – don’t want to let a talent like Murray go, considering he could help significantly in growing the sport. That’s why the league is considering allowing Oakland to offer him a new contract, one that includes not only guarantee portions but also a spot on the 40-man roster. This is unprecedented, as draft picks of Murray’s caliber typically receive contracts that are based upon playing in the minor leagues. Both the league and the A’s have sent representatives to try and convince him to focus on baseball but that doesn’t appear to be working out too well.
The amount of money Murray would make by immediately entering the NFL would far surpass what the A’s can offer, though if he finds success with baseball the payout could be much more significant in the long haul, given that the salaries are higher for projected top tier players. Every penny he makes at baseball’s top level would be his to keep, guaranteed, unlike the NFL. That’s thanks in part to no salary cap in baseball but, rather, the luxury tax, even though only two franchises had to pay it in 2018. If he does decide on the NFL, he will of course have to pay back the A’s that $4.66 million signing bonus he was given last year. Oakland could potentially let him to to the NFL Combine on Feb. 26 in Indianapolis if he chooses, though changes to his contract would need to be made.
Kyler Murray will now get feedback from NFL scouts regarding his draft position and many scouts estimate he’ll be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. He also has millions from baseball waiting for him. Big decision still looms.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 14, 2019
Perhaps the biggest benefit for Murray lies in choosing to play baseball and that’s the lack of abuse his body will take. Sure, MLB players battle their fair share of injuries but nothing compared with the physicality involved with professional football. In an era where players like Calvin Johnson and Patrick Willis are retiring in the early 30s after a significant contract because of future health concerns, the spotlight remains focused on concussions and the impact chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has on the body in the later stages of a former professional athlete’s life. A quarterback like Murray might not take the brunt of hits but he would still be highly susceptible to severe head injuries.
Baseball can’t offer the same level of super-stardom, however. While the sport succeeds quite well on a hyper-local level, think of the last time you sat down to watch a random Sunday Night Baseball broadcast when your team isn’t involved. For fantasy football purposes as well as betting purposes, football fans can often sit and watch even the most meaningless of contests, which simply means more exposure and more recognition for Murray on a much larger scale. Not only that, but NFL players dominate the marketing landscape in the United States, selling audiences sodas, fast food and much more. This opens up the door for more endorsements, which simply translates to more loot.
If Murray chooses the NFL, he’ll have the ability to go in and immediately make an impact while he’ll likely need some time in the major leagues to prove his value. He’ll make more money playing on the diamond – from a salary standpoint – than the gridiron, though sponsorships are more likely from a football standpoint – but his body will most likely take a beating in the process. It’s not an easy decision, it’ll require a lot of thought from Murray as well as potential contract reconfiguring at this point. All we can do is sit back and watch and, although baseball seems like the more logical choice from our perspective for health reasons, there’s no way to tell which one Murray will select just yet.