Kyler Murray is likely looking at five million reasons to choose a future in baseball over football. Besides the difference in the injury risks of playing centerfield compared to quarterback, it just makes more financial sense to make it in the MLB instead of the NFL.
The base salaries of professional baseball contracts are guaranteed while the vast majority of football contracts are not. In Murray’s case, it looks like he’s going to have his cake and eat it too. He will still lead national championship contender Oklahoma this fall before shifting his focus to the diamond full time in the spring. But let’s look at exactly why that’s the best move for him.
“[W]e just felt like Kyler was a unique talent, and it’s something that you come across rarely in what we do. The risk of the football was, in our opinion, outweighed by the upside on the baseball field,” said Oakland A’s scouting director Eric Kubota, per MLB.com’s Jane Lee. That the team is willing to draft such a risk with the 9th overall pick shows how much potential he has. He was also expected to be a first round selection out of high school before he took himself out of the draft because he’s so determined to play college football. Now the A’s clearly believe he’s going to sign with them because they won’t force him to drop his other sport.
The slot value for the 9th pick is $4,761,500, and according to Jon Heyman, he’s going to get that full amount and then some. I expected an under-slot deal to have been agreed to when Oakland discussed future plans with Murray’s camp since they conceded the football side, but good for him getting as much as he can while still fulfilling his dreams on the gridiron. This requires the team to shift some of its bonus pool money from other draft picks, and since the exact amount isn’t clear at the time of this writing, I’ll estimate a $4.9 million signing bonus for the sake of this exercise.
Although he might require extra time in the minor leagues than a typical college hitter since he’s lost so many at-bats to football, by the time he debuts, the MLB minimum salary should be even higher than this season’s $545,000 since it continues to rise. Given minor leaguers’ meager salaries and the need to accrue roughly three seasons before getting raises in arbitration, some loose math suggests he’s looking at under $2 million in earnings over the next six or seven years. With a large signing bonus already in hand, though, I’ll say it’s between $6.5 and $7 million total.
The financial prospects on the football side are more uncertain. Murray originally played at Texas A&M, where his dad Kevin also starred in both sports, and as a true freshman he shared time across eight games with middling results. After transferring to Oklahoma and sitting out a year, he showed well in limited duty as the backup to Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, but he’s still largely unproven. Even if he has a huge season running Lincoln Riley’s genius offensive system, it’s hard to see a quarterback with that short track record and who is listed between 5’10”-5’11” and 190-195 pounds being more than a mid-round pick.
As a contract comparison, Kyle Lauletta was drafted this year in the 4th round, 108th overall, as the seventh passer picked and a developmental project behind Eli Manning. He signed a four year, $3,167,700 deal, but only $707,700 is guaranteed according to overthecap.com. If Murray fell to say, the 6th round, then the contract comparison could be Tanner Lee, who was the 203rd pick as the 10th quarterback taken, and OTC has his contract at $2,460,000 with a $141,544 signing bonus.
The total money might be comparable to what he’d make during the same four year span in the minors. But these contracts demonstrate how much is not guaranteed in the NFL, especially before you get to that second contract. Particularly with Murray receiving a signing bonus even higher than slot value, he needed to secure the bag.
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