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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Why Kyler Murray is set to forfeit a $4.6m MLB bonus and join the NFL

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Why Kyler Murray is set to forfeit a $4.6m MLB bonus and join the NFL

So this is what a college athlete with real leverage looks like. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray has done a masterful job pitting two sporting giants, Major League Baseballand the National Football League, against each other.
Let’s rewind for a moment to explain what’s happened. Murray was a brilliant two-sport athlete in high school, which is little surprise given that his father was once a star quarterback at Texas A&M and his uncle played professionally for the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. Murray started off his college career playing both sports, but the Oakland A’s were excited enough by his talent that they picked Murray in the 2018 first-year player draft and signed him to a deal that guaranteed the outfielder $4.6m. This despite the fact that Murray was still playing football.
The rest, as they say, is history. Murray, who had been a fringe college football player prior to the 2018 season, strolled into the Sooner’s QB-friendly offense and exploded. Murray threw for 4,361 yards, ran for another 1,001 and accounted for 54 total touchdowns (42 passing, 12 rushing), leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff. He capped the year off by winning the Heisman Trophy, the sport’s most prestigious individual honor.
Suddenly the decision became a bit more difficult: football or baseball? On Monday, Murray revealed his choice with a simple tweet:
But that’s not the end of the discussion. Monday was the deadline for Murray to declare himself eligible for April’s NFL draft, not the fail-safe point before his final decision. He hasn’t signed a deal with an NFL team, and could still report for spring training with the A’s at the end of February. If he does choose football, he will forfeit his $4.6m bonus with the A’s.

The dynamics of long-term quarterback deals are changing, too. Many NFL contracts sound huge but much of the money is not guaranteed. That paradigm appears to be shifting. Kirk Cousins’ agent made sure the $90m contract his client signed with the Vikings last offseason was wholly guaranteed. Aaron Rodgers worked out a similar deal in which close to $100m of his new deal is non-refundable.
Off the field, football has the edge, too.Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all earn more money in endorsements than they do from their NFL salaries. To reach that level of fame in MLB, and therefore command that kind of money, is a long, arduous road. After all, baseball has failed spectacularly to market Mike Trout, arguably the most gifted player in the game’s rich history.
Last year a market research firm told the Washington Post that only 22% of Americans know who Trout is. Only LeBron James, Lionel Messi and Aaron Rodgers compare to Trout on the field: all-time greats doing all-time great things in the social media age. But according to the Post report, Trout’s recognition level was equal with NBA bench player Kenneth Faried. Only one baseball player ranks in the 100 most followed athletes on Twitter: Tim Tebow, a former college football star, whose baseball career is stuck in the New York Mets’ minor-league system.
There’s a slight chance the financial discrepancy won’t be so great if Murray does choose baseball. ESPN reported on Sunday that MLB had given the A’s approval to offer Murray a major league deal with significant guaranteed money – Murray wants $15m – in an effort to convince him to stick to baseball. MLB rules prevent teams from signing players right out of the draft to major league deals, but Murray’s situation is considered unique given his post-draft success and national relevancy.

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