On the one hand, being the presumptive starting quarterback for a top 10 program would seem to be a pretty nice gig. On the other hand, getting nearly $5 million up front to pursue a comparatively safer career in baseball also would seem to have a certain allure.
Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, it seems, will try to do both, at least for now.
On Monday, the Oakland Athletics selected Murray with the No. 9 pick in the MLB draft even though he’s the heir apparent to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma. That No. 9 draft slot has an assigned value of $4,761,500, and under NCAA rules Murray could take that signing bonus yet still return in the fall to play quarterback for the Sooners, which seems like the plan.
“Right now I’m not focused on the baseball-football situation,” Murray told ESPN’s Jake Trotter and other reporters Monday night in a conference call, adding that he plans on playing football this fall.
Murray won three state football titles at Texas’s biggest high school classification and was the Gatorade national player of the year in 2014 before originally signing with Texas A&M, following in the footsteps of his father (also a football-baseball star who played in the Brewers organization). After making three starts as a true freshman for the Aggies, he transferred to Oklahoma, sitting out the 2016 season before serving as Mayfield’s backup last season.
But Murray also was a standout baseball player in high school — he’s the only person to play in the Under Armour all-star game in both sports — and put up some good numbers for the Sooners this season: Batting cleanup, he hit .296 with 10 home runs, 47 RBI and 10 stolen bases and made just one error in his first season at center field after moving over from left.
With those stats ginning up fond memories of Rickey Henderson, the A’s thought Murray was too good to pass up.
“The risk of the football, in our opinion, was outweighed by the upside on the baseball field,” Oakland director of scouting Eric Kubota told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’re totally on board with his desire to play quarterback at Oklahoma and frankly, we’re kind of excited to be Oklahoma fans for 12 games. That’s not easy for a Cal guy to say.”
NCAA rules would allow Murray to sign with the A’s yet still play football so long as he meets academic requirements, and Sooners Coach Lincoln Riley told reporters last week that that was his quarterback’s plan all along.
“I knew the deal when we were getting into it. [The Murray family has] lived up to their word in every part of it,” Riley said, per Trotter, adding that Murray told him that he would remain in Norman this summer to train with the football team.
While Murray seems set in his decision right now, he might have to pick one sport or the other once football season is finished, and baseball would seem to be the wisest choice. At 5 feet 10 and just 190 pounds, Murray would be small by NFL standards. Russell Wilson, who also was drafted by and signed with an MLB team while still playing college football, was 5-11 and 204 pounds at the combine. Mayfield was 6-1 and 215 pounds at his combine and also was considered small for an NFL quarterback, though the Browns still chose him with the No. 1 pick. A nearly $5 million bonus, plus the lure of guaranteed MLB contracts down the line and a path to lifelong financial stability that doesn’t involve much risk of head injuries, might force Murray’s hand.
There are few people on the planet who know the predicament Murray is facing. One of them offered his advice Monday night on the MLB Network.
“I can’t tell the young man what to do,” Bo Jackson said, “but whatever sport he chooses, concentrate on it.”
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