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Kyler Murray got so good at football that giving up baseball’s millions made sense

Before the 2018 football season, taking the A’s’ money was an obvious financial winner. Now, giving it back is.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas vs Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Murray is a full-time football player, picked first overall by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL Draft.

He made that official in February, announcing that he’d devote his time and attention to the NFL Draft — and not to baseball, the sport where the Oakland A’s drafted him ninth overall in June 2018. One of the most scrutinized two-sports decisions ever is now made.

When Murray decided in the summer of 2018 that he was a baseball player, it made all the financial sense in the world.

He was a former five-star QB recruit, but that was a long time prior. Murray went to Texas A&M in the class of 2015, after a run as one of the best high school athletes in Texas state history. He played sparingly (and poorly) and transferred to Oklahoma. He sat out 2016 under NCAA transfer rules. In 2017, he was Heisman winner Baker Mayfield’s backup.

Murray was always ticketed to be Oklahoma’s starting QB in 2018. He was always likely to be good, playing in a spread offense that’s become the envy of the sport. But he was not likely to be a first-round NFL draft pick. Part of it was that he’s not even 6 feet, but a much bigger part of it was that he’d never gotten significant reps as a college QB. Figuring out Murray’s football upside had only gotten harder as the calendar kept flipping.

The A’s gave him a $4.66 million signing bonus and let him play one more season at Oklahoma. Money-wise, signing was the most sensible thing he could’ve done.

Well, now Murray’s a Heisman winner himself, and one of the most electrifying athletes college football has ever had. At the same time, the NFL’s pivoting hard toward the college spread Murray has mastered.

The Sooners got to the Playoff with Murray helming the most dazzling offense in college football. He beat Tua Tagovailoa in an amazing Heisman race. Meanwhile, the NFL’s so enamored with the RPO spread that the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, a head coach Texas Tech had just fired, to be an NFL head coach two months later.

So, Murray’s going to be a high draft pick. I suppose it’s possible he falls out of the first round, but I wouldn’t bet on that, and you probably wouldn’t either. SB Nation’s Dan Kadar projects him going 13th overall to the Dolphins, only behind Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins among QBs. Someone’s going to draft Murray high and pay him a lot of money.

Baseball has no salary cap, fewer head injuries, and a more plausible path to riches for most players. But most players aren’t first-round QBs.

Murray’s giving back a lot of dough ...

... but he’s positioned to get much more from his NFL team. Baseball would’ve let Murray have nearly $5 million off the hop, sure, but he’d have had to play for almost nothing for a year or three in the minor leagues. Then he’d have had to play for a few hundred thousand dollars a year for his first three full seasons in the majors. Or, he could do this:

If he’s a first round NFL Draft pick, at minimum he’s looking at a four-year, $10 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus up front, based off projections at each pick slot. If he’s a top-10 pick: $17 million, $11 million signing bonus. Rookie NFL deals for first round players are guaranteed for four years.

Here’s the money in the immediate future of each path:

Three years of baseball under his current agreement (excluding the bonus he’s already been given): about $1.66 million (unless he’s so good in his first two years that he’s a special case).

If he’s taken 32nd in the NFL Draft, he’s guaranteed more than that before throwing a pass.

When Murray was a wild card, the only thing to do was to take Oakland’s dollars. Now that he’s nearly a sure thing at the top of the NFL Draft, that’s not the case.

Plus, it seems like football is what’s in Murray’s heart.

“Football has been my life and passion my entire life,” he said in announcing his decision.

Another player who’s faced a similar call, former Oklahoma State QB Josh Fields, told me around the time of Murray’s baseball drafting that whatever the player loves most tends to supersede other factors. The money being what it is makes this much simpler.