Soon, Kyler Murray will have a decision to make. The A’s just made him the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. The Oklahoma QB and outfielder will eventually have to pick a sport.
Murray said this spring he’s “not worried right now” about his looming choice, though Riley said he’s “had some discussions” with the QB and his family about it, ESPN reported. Days before the draft, Riley said he expected Murray would play QB at Oklahoma in 2018.
Murray’s in an unusual but not unprecedented predicament. His closest analog might be Josh Fields, the Oklahoma State starting QB who skipped his senior season and turned pro in baseball after the White Sox took him 18th as a third baseman in 2004. Fields got a reported $1.55 million signing bonus.
Both Bedlam rivals are small QBs in stature, and both had a clearer professional outlook in baseball than in football. Let’s size up Murray’s decision with help from Fields, who knows the ins and outs of a baseball/football decision better than almost anyone.
1. If Murray signs with a baseball team, he gets up-front financial certainty.
MLB’s collective bargaining agreement includes a roadmap for how much specific picks get paid, in the form of “slot values” that teams get penalized for spending above. Murray’s is about $4.7 million, and he might have extra leverage in the form of his football talents.
The minor leagues are a scourge, and Murray would have to play a few years for about minimum wage. But he’d be doing that with a million dollars in his pocket and not as an unpaid college athlete.
“In the minor leagues, you are not bringing home a lot. You are playing to accomplish your goals and dreams of playing in the major leagues, where hopefully you will finally be compensated well,” Fields says.
The signing bonus “does kind of ease the burden of having to go hopefully play — you only hope to play a couple of minor league seasons and then move on,” he says.
If Murray got to the big leagues, he’d play on a fully guaranteed contract. Lots of NFL money isn’t guaranteed.
If Murray doesn’t sign this year, he’ll be eligible for the baseball draft again in 2019. But he’d have less leverage for his last time in the draft, and he’d be older, something that makes any prospect less attractive. He’d also have another year of football hits on his body.
It’s not impossible that he could get drafted and make a deal to continue to play football for a year, but that seems unlikely for a potential high pick.
2. Murray’s potential football earnings are unclear, but they could be minimal.
Fields says he had “no clue” what his draft stock would’ve been a year later in the NFL. It would’ve depended on his senior season in Stillwater.
Murray’s in a similar boat. He got massive hype as a recruit in 2015, but he was mostly a backup at Texas A&M, sat out a year after transferring to Oklahoma, and was a backup again in 2017.
Maybe Murray will dominate the Big 12 over the next season or two and get drafted in the first two rounds. That would get him a signing bonus of at least $1 million and maybe a lot more. But that’s not likely for a 5’10, sub-200-pounder, even if a short-ish Oklahoma transfer QB just got picked first overall in the NFL.
Fields, who was a listed 6’2 but says that was “with cleats,” thought the size issue made his odds in football longer.
“Here I am, kind of 6’1, and there’s not a whole lot of 6’1 quarterbacks in the NFL having success, besides kind of the guys that are just freak athletes, Drew Brees and guys like that,” he says.
Barring a huge breakout, Murray is probably not more than a mid-round pick, which could get him a few hundred thousand in bonus money. That’s a generous guess, given all the unknowns that come with so much time on the bench. He might not get drafted at all and have to fend for himself in undrafted free agency.
3. Baseball is the much safer sport, which matters to some players.
Injuries happen in every sport. But center fielders don’t have 280-pound athletes trying to slam them to the ground with maximum force on every play.
Fields was teammates with Kevin Williams, an Oklahoma State defensive tackle and eventual six-time Pro Bowler who was about 6’5 and well over 300 pounds.
“You start thinking about things like that logically, and you’re like, ‘One body’s gonna give, and it’s probably not gonna be his,’” Fields says. “That was kind of a major concern, too.”
4. If Murray leaves Oklahoma now, he misses out on what could be a really fun year or two.
Being the starting quarterback at Oklahoma and playing in front of 85,000 adoring fans and fellow students on Saturdays sounds way more fun than riding buses to minor league ballgames in Altoona, Pennsylvania, or Corpus Christi, Texas.
If Murray leads the Sooners to another Playoff, he’ll have a network of thousands of people who might help him later in life. If he leaves football now, he’ll do it without ever getting a chance to realize his full potential in the other sport that deemed him one of the most prized prospects in the country.
“I go back and I watch football games, and I see Senior Day,” Fields says. “I think, ‘Man, that kinda stings.’ I never got to have a Senior Day and walk out with my parents and show them how much I appreciated them for travel leagues and making it to every game on Friday night in the fall.”
5. Whatever’s in Murray’s heart could supersede any of these points.
“I know that it kind of probably seems stereotypical of a quote to say,” Fields says. “It really did kind of come down to my first love and stuff like that. It really did, ‘cause all those other factors, you can get over.”
The A’s hope he gets over football and chooses them.