Ever since the Oakland Athletics selected Kyler Murray with the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, it has been a rollercoaster ride for the two-sport star and everyone following his career. Despite handing over a $4.66-million signing bonus, the A's allowed Murray to complete his junior year at Oklahoma, where he eventually won the Heisman Trophy. With Murray declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft on Sunday, here are 10 questions surrounding the 21-year-old's life-altering decision.
Technically, no. There's still time for Murray to flip back and choose baseball. However, if Murray was harboring even a small inclination toward playing in the NFL, he had to declare for the draft by Monday's deadline.
Soon. A first-round selection in the NFL draft would go a long way toward vindicating Murray if he chooses football, but, along with his size, Murray's consideration of a baseball career will be one of the few factors that could keep him from being selected in that range. Unlike in baseball, NFL teams will have no desire to use a premium pick on a player that may or may not end up on their roster. Murray would have to make it clear in pre-draft team interviews that he is committed to football for teams to feel confident taking him on the opening night of the draft.
The dates to watch are in February. Oakland invited Murray to participate in spring training, which officially opens in the middle of the month and overlaps with the NFL Scouting Combine, scheduled to take place Feb. 26 - March 4. Leaving spring training to attend the combine would represent a breach of his contract with the A's, and Murray would likely have to pay back his signing bonus.
Draft experts seem to expect Murray's name will be called in the middle of the first round. Dane Brugler of The Athletic tabs the diminutive signal-caller to go 15th overall to the Washington Redskins. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently suggested Murray would be under consideration as the first overall pick, held by the Arizona Cardinals, with scouts saying he's a lock to go in the top round. However, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport cites scouts suggesting he's a second- or third-round prospect.
Either way, teams need more information before making any sort of definitive valuation. Though his game-breaking ability is already on tape, and shorter quarterbacks can undoubtedly succeed in today's NFL, official height and weight measurements are key for a quarterback whose 5-foot-10, 195-pound listing at Oklahoma may have been a little favorable.
In short, good but not great.
As a 20-year-old, Murray authored an impressive .296/.398/.556 slash line in the Big 12, with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases over 51 games. His speed is his best asset, according to scouts, with his hit tool, power, and fielding abilities all projecting as league average.
Of course, the fact that Murray has not participated in baseball activities since February clouds scouts' judgment of the young outfielder and may mean that he's less polished.
The contemporary demands of both sports are just too great.
All 32 NFL teams hold their first offseason workouts in April, interfering with the beginning of the MLB season. In addition, organized team activities (or OTAs) and mandatory minicamps are held throughout the summer, during the heart of baseball's regular-season schedule. Training camp opens 15 days before preseason games begin in August.
It hurts to hear, but the days of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are long gone.
Not a whole lot, but some will see it as a black spot on a sport waning in popularity. It's never ideal when a top recruit actively chooses a different profession after being selected in the top round.
But that fails to recognize the fact that nobody - not even the Sooners QB himself - foresaw Murray going on to win the Heisman Trophy after being drafted ninth overall.
And while college baseball is entertaining, NCAA football is on a whole other level. The College Football Playoff is as close to a professional atmosphere as a non-professional athlete can get.
Major League Baseball isn't going to overhaul its feeder system anytime soon, and, even if it did, it would take a huge cultural shift to make college baseball a more entertaining product than college football. The call of the NFL is just too tempting.
That said, MLB allowing teams to pay prospects equitably earlier in their careers may have helped lure Murray back. But, if he chooses the NFL, it's because he was always going to play football.
If Murray leaves, Oakland could potentially file a grievance against the league rules that will leave the team without a compensatory draft pick.
Immediately prior to the A's selecting Murray, the Atlanta Braves drafted Carter Stewart eighth overall. The two wound up not agreeing to terms, and Stewart even filed a grievance of his own - jointly with the MLB Players Association - for the way he was treated by the Braves. Because the two sides never agreed to terms, Atlanta will get the No. 9 selection in the 2019 draft as compensation.
Meanwhile, the A's and Murray agreed to terms - the $4.66-million signing bonus. If he chooses to pursue a career in football, the A's will be left with nothing. Oakland could make a strong case that next year's No. 10 pick should belong to them.
Considering the fact that he's not as polished as other prospects his age, Murray would likely be relegated to the minor leagues for at least two full seasons. Minor-league contracts are never guaranteed, and players are not represented by the union. That means their salary is often fixed and starts at $1,100 per month, making their signing bonus crucial income.
If Murray makes it to the majors by the time he turns 23 in the 2021 season - when the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire - he would be under team control for six full seasons, eligible for arbitration as early as year three, and would qualify for free agency after year six.
It's not all gloomy, though. All major-league deals - from one-year settlements in arbitration to 13-year blockbusters like the $325-million contract Giancarlo Stanton signed - are fully guaranteed. However, if the current economy in baseball continues, salaries for 30-year-old players may be heavily suppressed, and expecting Murray to land Stanton money is foolhardy.
For example, A.J. Pollock, who has made $19 million to date heading into his age-31 season as a one-time All-Star, has yet to land a contract this winter and owns a .805 career OPS. Nick Markakis, the prototypical average outfielder, has made $110 million over the course of his steady yet mostly unremarkable career. As a 35-year-old, Markakis is now languishing in free agency, like Pollock.
Folks will reflexively look to Jeff Samardzija, who chose baseball over football back in 2007. However, this is an imperfect comparison because Samardzija was a receiver, and would have had to face much more contact. In Samardzija's case, it was a no-brainer to choose pitching professionally, which has earned him no less than $122 million while incurring no contact-related injuries.
Finally, it's worth noting that there are 90 starting outfield jobs in MLB, compared to 32 starting QB gigs. That means more opportunities to stay on a major-league roster with a guaranteed paycheck coming in. All in all, if Murray turned out to be a league-average outfielder, he could likely make around nine figures over the course of his career, although his floor is much, much lower.
Let's assume Murray commits to football and goes in the first round of April's draft. Here's a look at the fully guaranteed four-year contracts that first-round quarterbacks signed last year:
First-round contracts also come with a fifth-year option that the team can exercise at a one-year cost based on the top salaries around the league. A quarterback selected in the top 10 would get the average salary of the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks, while one selected from picks 11-31 would get the average of the top 25. For reference, the fifth-year option for quarterbacks selected in the top 10 in 2015 (exercised for next season) was $20.9 million. Quarterbacks taken from 11-32 got a one-year salary of $14.1 million. Once exercised in the spring prior to the fourth season of the contract, those fifth-year options are guaranteed for injury.
Beyond the first contract, there's no telling where Murray's football career could lead him. But there's money to be made regardless. Superstar quarterbacks are now making upward of $30 million per year on new contracts, with significant endorsement potential on the side, while a low-end starter like Andy Dalton is averaging $16 million on his deal. Even career backups like Chase Daniel, Drew Stanton, and Chad Henne have accumulated around $30 million in career earnings.
And all above numbers are based on past and current contract figures. With the salary cap already on the rise every year, and potentially significant jumps to come with future CBA agreements and TV deals, player salaries - especially those of quarterbacks - could conceivably skyrocket over the next decade.
Choosing football doesn't come without risk, of course. The violent nature of the game carries a far greater chance of injury than MLB, and player careers are typically shorter as a result. But quarterbacks are also being protected more with every passing year. Barring a swift and complete flameout, which is actually quite rare for early-round quarterbacks, football provides Murray with greater financial upside than baseball, both in the short term and in the future.
Whatever he wants. Murray has proven to be a high-quality player in both sports, so whichever one he chooses will likely make him very wealthy and - probably - quite famous.
If Murray loves both football and baseball equally, he is truly on the fence. However, choosing football now is likely the smart decision. If he happens to be a bust, Tim Tebow already paved the way for NFL burnouts to attempt comebacks in baseball. Not to mention, Tebow never even swung a bat in college, let alone got drafted in the first round. MLB may not welcome Murray back with open arms, but some team would absolutely give the Heisman winner a chance. A mid-career transition from outfielder to quarterback would be far more difficult, if not impossible.