Kyler Murray is a special talent.
He won the Heisman Trophy as the quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2018 in his first year as a full-time starter. He also was selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, a contract that comes with a $4.66 million signing bonus.
Murray played football as a junior and has two possible career decisions. He can report to spring training in February, or he can go to the NFL Draft, choose football instead and pay back his signing bonus.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday night that the A's expect Murrary to enter the NFL Draft, and that the announcement will come Sunday. But until Murray makes his choice public, there remains an air of mystery over the decision.
But is football the right decision for Murray? Is baseball? Could he do both? SN's Ryan Fagan and Bill Bender discuss.
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Fagan: Kyler should absolutely play baseball. He's been drafted into an organization that enthusiastically believes in his future, in his potential to be a star on and off the field. A's front office guru Billy Beane was named the 2018 Sporting News Executive of the Year — the third time he's won in his groundbreaking career — and when I presented him the award at the Winter Meetings in December, I asked him about Murray. His face lit up.
“I think the entire country can see why we would take him with the ninth pick,” Beane told me, with his Hollywood grin at peak levels. “As exciting as he is on the football field, some of those skill sets translate to baseball, and that's why getting him on the baseball field — not just for the A's, but for baseball in general — will be great for the game.”
The A's believe in Murray. Teams don't waste first-round picks on players they don't believe in. As a baseball player, Murray is a raw talent, sure. But the A's will invest in giving him the tools — and the time — to reach the heights of his talent. Murray knows this, without a shadow of a doubt. Will he get the same treatment if he dives into the NFL Draft? Who knows? Sure, Murray is a hot prospect now, but there's a long time between now and the draft. What happens if his stock slides and he winds up as a third- or fourth-round pick? It's hard to imagine a football team believing in him as wholly as the A's do. Lots of unknowns with the football route.
Bender: There are just as many unknowns in baseball, and judging from Murray's comments at the Heisman Trophy ceremony — which is known to be given to the best player in college football — he's torn for a reason.
That's because he's good at quarterback. He's considered by some to be the best high school football player in Texas history. He had a season on the level of Baker Mayfield, the previous Heisman winner and a No. 1 pick who has energized Cleveland. And I'm not buying the can't-play-in-the-NFL narrative. C.J. Beathard, Cody Kessler and 39-year-old Josh McCown had more than 100 passing attempts in the league this year. NFL scouts are having a hard time putting a draft grade on Murray because he's a special talent we're not used to seeing. You know who else was like that? Russell Wilson.
He was 5-11, played some minor league baseball and was doubted so hard that he slipped to the third round before being drafted by the Seahawks. I think he made the right decision.
I'm guessing you're going to come back and start talking about money.
Fagan: I'm actually not going to make the money argument. I've seen the asinine amounts of money Sam Bradford has made for being eternally overpaid in that league. And IF Murray's stock stays high and IF a team falls in love with him — obsessions are known to be quite common among NFL decision-makers, for better or worse — and IF he's taken in the first round (especially early) and IF he stays healthy for the life of his rookie contract, his earning potential over the next several years is actually much higher in football.
On the other hand, if he sticks with baseball, he's guaranteed every single one of those $4.66 million dollars. That's money in hand, and it's a risky proposition to turn down/give back that signing bonus (either all or part of it, depending on the exact language in his contract). But I'm not someone who's going to preach against betting on yourself if that's what you've spent your life doing, as Kyler has.
I love what Kyler Murray can be as a baseball star. That speed he shows on the football field will drive opposing teams crazy on the base paths and produce highlight-reel catches in the outfield. His improvement in his second season on the OU baseball team was impressive. His work in the Cape Cod League — the summer wood-bat league where college players go to hone their skills in preparation for becoming a professional — was legit. He'll look great in the A's kelly-green uniforms, too.
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Bender: He would, and this Baseball America article offers a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the comparison of his value in baseball and football. I would not blame Murray one bit if he put that A's kelly-green uniform either.
It's just that the last guy to do this kind of thing looked even better in the silver-and-black Raiders' uniform. Bo Jackson is still the standard for two-way athletes in the modern era, and the cross-promotional “Bo Know” campaign was a once-in-a-generation-thing. Murray knows that – and that's why he did that tribute photo in the fall.
Which leads to my next point. The second Murray even attempts a two-sport professional thing he becomes one of the most marketable athletes in either sport. I don't think he can both play sports — especially being a quarterback — but as far as endorsements I still think there's more money to be made, enough to cover that signing bonus, with a football career. If it doesn't work out in football, then he can just do what another Heisman Trophy winner did.
Now batting for the New York Mets, left fielder, Tim Tebow.
Fagan: You think Bo looked better in silver and black? Really? Bo Jackson was born to wear the crisp, clean royal blue-and-white jersey of Kansas City. And you know why I'm so excited about the idea of seeing an athlete like Murray play baseball? It's because of Bo. I remember as a kid watching him RUN UP THE OUTFIELD WALL after catching a ball in the outfield and just being gobsmacked. I didn't know that was possible for anyone other than Spider-Man. And the thing is, Bo made RUNNING UP THE DAMN OUTFIELD WALL look pedestrian, like he did that kind of thing all the time.
I'm not saying Kyler is Bo. Nobody is Bo. But Kyler is Kyler and that's pretty damn special. The timeline to stardom is different, for sure, but in the long run Kyler can separate himself from the field more as a baseball player than he can as a football player.
And you joke about Tebow, but it might/could happen in September.
Bender: Murray might get drafted, but he should still play minor league baseball this spring to see where he stands. That would give the two-sport star more time to evaluate what he wants to do. Still, the path to the NFL is much faster than the minor league trek to MLB. That's also a factor. After all, "the heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care."
I had no idea Emily Dickinson said that until I looked it up, but it totally applies to Murray. By leaving the door open for football, it's clear there is still a strong interest in it. When he figures out what he wants to do, he's going to be very good at it. I feel like pushing a deadline here resembles what happened to Jackson, who lost his final year of baseball eligibility after having contact with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers then chose baseball out of spite against Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse. There's no reason for Murray to be pressured like that.
Though, to your point, Jackson said he would have never played football in the first place if he had it to do over again. With that mind, I'll give you the ball. Where do you see Murray in five years?
Fagan: Well, Bo knows.
Five years from today, Murray will preparing for his first full year as a starter in the major leagues. He will have already given A's fans a taste of what's to come, and he'll use spring training to take the lessons he's learned from the ups and downs of minor league life and his limited big league experience and hit the ground running — literally — in the Oakland outfield on Opening Day.
And he will be happy with his choice to play baseball.