Kobritz: Kyler Murray chooses football, and the NFL wins again
Beyond the Lines
The NFL wins again. It almost always does.
On the opening night of the NFL draft, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray completed his stunning one-year transformation from little-known college backup planning a career in baseball to the No. 1 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals.
Murray was destined to play professional baseball after he signed a $4.6 million bonus with the Oakland A’s as the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB draft. During his outstanding campaign for the Sooners last fall, Murray’s baseball agent, Scott Boras, was quoted as saying his client would not pursue the NFL. But that was before Murray collared the three highest awards a collegiate football player could win, the Davey O’Brien Award as the country’s best quarterback, the Associated Press Player of the Year award and the Heisman Trophy, the most prestigious of all.
Little did Boras know how much football meant to Murray, who grew up dreaming about being the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. That possibility seemed unlikely as recently as a year ago after Murray had sat on the bench for two seasons watching another Sooners quarterback, Baker Mayfield, win the Heisman and get drafted No. 1 by the Cleveland Browns.
Repaying the A’s bonus won’t be an issue for Murray. His first NFL contract will guarantee him $33 million over four years. If he chose baseball, Murray would spend the next two years in the Minor Leagues, playing before “crowds” of 500 in outposts such as Benoit, Wisconsin for $2,500 per month – for five months of the year. Compare that to starting under center on Sundays in sold out stadiums of 60,000. What 21-year old wouldn’t make the same decision as Murray?
Studies have shown that the top picks in the NFL draft end up making more – much more – money over the course of their careers than top MLB players. And the jury is still out on whether Murray can make it to the Major Leagues. There’s no doubt he has the tools to become an impact player, most likely as a centerfielder, but tools don’t always translate into production. Despite glowing scouting reports from scouts and coaches, Murray is still raw, having spent precious little time on the diamond while focusing on football.
Murray’s football success isn’t guaranteed either, although the bonus money is. At 5’ 10” (plus another eighth of an inch, according to a measurement at last month’s NFL combine) he’s shorter than the prototypical quarterback. Most franchise quarterbacks are comfortably north of six feet. On the plus side, Murray is more mobile than classic drop-back quarterbacks, like Tom Brady, and the Cardinals have a coach who figures to design the offense to best utilize his new quarterback’s skills.
Some shorter quarterbacks, like Drew Brees of the Saints and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, have thrived in the NFL, leading their teams to Super Bowl wins.
In the competition for the best athletes, the NFL trumps MLB once again. It’s an unfair contest, one baseball cannot win unless an athlete loves the sport more than football.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.