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Calling The Option Play: Kyler Murray Sizing Up NFL, MLB Futures

It wasn’t long after Kyler Murray walked off with the Heisman Trophy that the University of Oklahoma quarterback called an audible that came as no surprise. He announced while football was really cool, he would follow the other path he’d previously laid to Major League Baseball.

The ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s, Murray made it clear he’d honor his commitment to the team, one he signed and the A’s delivered via the $4.66 million bonus they handed him.

Kyler Murray

Michael Reaves / Getty

And just like Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward did years ago by picking the NBA over the NFL, Murray planned to hang up the helmet, and slip on the batting donut, following the Sooners loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Thanks for the memories?

Not quite yet, apparently.

One month before spring training opens on Feb. 15, after listening to the scouts – and taking a brief economics lesson – Murray is now hinting he will enter the NFL Draft. He has until Monday to decide.

The A’s said on Thursday they now expect Murray, 21, will push them aside in pursuit of an even bigger cash cow in the NFL. If he does, it won’t take much to make it happen. All Murray needs to do is return his bonus money.

So instead of taking batting practice swings in Arizona, its likely Murray will be in Indianapolis preening at the NFL Scouting Combine which begins on Feb. 26.

If Murray wants to play in the NFL, and does not immediately return the bonus money, the A’s might be nice and allow him to size things up for himself at the Combine, although Major League Baseball would have to grant permission for him Murray to go.

This news about Murray and the NFL has not settled well with some people. Jen Rainwater, a blogger known as “Baseball Jen” who covered the A’s for Athletics Nation, went off big-league style on Murray in a twitter rant. Included were crude things like a middle-finger emoji, some choice name-calling and an admission that she didn’t care if Murray was seriously hurt in football. She was immediately fired.

Others took the news more professionally.

While the A’s looked at Murray as a centerfielder, NFL scouts seem to see another Baker Mayfield or Russell Wilson. And if that’s how it turns out, Murray will have made a great decision, professionally and financially. Wilson also turned down a MLB future to play in the NFL.

In 2018, Murray threw for 4,361 yards and rushed for 1,001, accounting for 54 touchdowns. Still, his baseball career has been guided by super-agent Scott Boras. At the MLB Winter Meetings, Boras admitted that Murray winning the Heisman might change things.

“When you win the Heisman, you’re going to have a lot of information come to you to be looked at,” said Boras. “All I know is Kyler has a tremendous opportunity to be a great baseball player and he knows that.”

Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley also admitted Murray would have a tough decision to make.

“He’s in a great situation,” said Riley. “He’s already the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft and I think he’ll probably be somewhere around the same spot if he chose to go football.”

If Murray believes he’s equally as talented in football, the reason he’d choose the NFL is the ability to make a lot more money quickly. Although it’s hard to quantify since it’s impossible to know how long or successful a career he might have, let’s just compare what he might make in comparison to Mayfield and Wilson.

As the No. 1 pick in the draft, Mayfield was given a four-year, $32,682,980 deal including a signing bonus of $21,849,440 that’s dispensed evenly over the life of the contract.

Let’s say Riley is correct and Murray is the No. 9 pick in the first round this season. Last’s year’s No. 9 pick, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey from Notre Dame, received a four-year deal from San Francisco worth $18,341,876 that is fully guaranteed.

It could turn out that Murray might even be the first QB taken in the draft and that would command more money. Is he better than Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock from Missouri? It depends what teams are looking for.

While he was still coaching in college, look at what Kliff Kingsbury, now the coach of the Arizona Cardinals, said in October about Murray:

“He’s a freak, man,” said Kingsbury. “I followed him since he was in high school. I just think the world of him and what he can do on the football field. I’ve never seen one [a quarterback] better in high school and he’s starting to show it now on the college level. I don’t have enough good things to say about him. He’s phenomenal. I’ve never seen him have a poor outing, which is impossible to do, but he’s done it. I’d take him with the first pick in the draft, if I could.”

The Cardinals, who took Josh Rosen in the first round last season, have the first pick in 2019. The San Francisco 49ers, who already have Jimmy Garoppolo, have the second pick and don’t need a QB. Unless you think Tampa Bay (picking No. 5) wants a change from Jameis Winston, the first team in the draft in need of a new franchise QB are the New York Giants at No. 6.

Now what, Kilff?

Seriously, is there that much difference fundamentally between Mayfield, Murray and Lamar Jackson, the first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018? Jackson got $9.5 million and a $4.9 million signing bonus as the 32nd overall pick

In July 2015, Wilson signed a contract extension with the Seattle Seahawks worth $87.6 million over four years with a $31 million signing bonus and $60 million guaranteed.

The sports site Spotrac tells us even middle of the road NFL QBs make a lot of money. Mark Sanchez, for instance, has already pocketed $74.2 million.

If Murray stays in baseball, he is likely facing a few years in the Minors with little base salary and a seven-year commitment to the A’s that begins the day he makes the Major League roster.

Once he gets to the Majors, he’d wait another three years before he can go to arbitration. The MLB minimum salary in 2019 will be $550,000. Thinking optimistically, it might not be until 2022 or 2023 before Murray could cash in, and that’s if his career pans out as expected.

You can see how Murray’s $4.66 million signing bonus from the A’s now looks like Tom Brady tip money. And that’s why Murray will likely play in the NFL.

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