According to a report Wednesday by the San Francisco Chronicle, multiple sources have claimed that the A’s “expect” Murray to declare Sunday for the NFL draft. College football players with remaining eligibility have until Monday to make that decision, and many standouts have already done so.
Murray recently completed a junior season for Oklahoma that ended with a high-scoring loss to Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal. In his first year as the Sooners’ starting quarterback — after backing up Baker Mayfield, who won the Heisman in 2017 and went on to become the first overall pick in last year’s draft — the Texas native threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, and he added another 1,001 yards and 12 scores on the ground.
His reported interest in entering the NFL draft could be an indication that he has learned of reciprocal enthusiasm by teams in that league for his talents. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday that NFL executives “believe Murray is ‘magic’” and that he could be a first- or second-round pick. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio claimed that an NFL general manager told him via text that Murray would be a first-rounder.
At a listed 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Murray would be unusually small for an NFL quarterback, but the comparably undersized Russell Wilson has enjoyed major success with the Seahawks, and the league is trending toward schemes that favor highly mobile players at that position who have familiarity with spread and read-option concepts. Another factor that could be swaying Murray’s thought process is that, with Oregon’s Justin Herbert committing to another year in college, this year’s draft is considered light on top-tier quarterback prospects.
Declaring himself for the NFL draft would not necessarily commit Murray to eschewing a career with the A’s, but as the Chronicle noted, he will likely have to make a firm decision by February, when players are set to report for spring training. A couple of weeks after that comes the NFL draft combine, in which the Sooners star would have great incentive to participate, as he could possibly cement his early-round status with a strong showing.
If he does choose football, Murray would have to forfeit most if not all of his signing bonus from the A’s, reportedly nearly $5 million. He would likely get more guaranteed money than that as an NFL team’s first-round pick, while Oakland would have nothing to show for its gamble with the ninth pick last year, apart from the rights to Murray should he opt to return to baseball.
While MLB has the lure of bigger money for above-average players and lower injury rates and longer careers, the NFL holds the promise of starting with more money and getting to a lucrative second contract sooner. The success this season of a rookie quarterback who previously won the Heisman, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens, might give some NFL teams optimism that Murray’s running ability could also help him have an immediate impact while he hones his passing skills.
When he was coming out of high school, Murray turned down the chance to be a possible first-round pick in the 2015 MLB draft, choosing instead to become a two-sport star in college. He began at Texas A&M, had to sit out the 2016 season after transferring to Oklahoma and then waited his turn behind Mayfield.
Murray’s agent, Scott Boras, declared in early December that his client’s commitment to a baseball career was a “done” deal and that there was “not a determination to make,” in terms of possibly opting for football. He added that Murray “is going to reward the Oakland A’s and their owners, fans, by executing the agreement to its truest intent and now continue his baseball career.”
The quarterback/outfielder agreed at the time, saying, “I feel like I could play in the NFL, but as far as giving it up, as of now, yeah, that’s the plan.” However, he left some wiggle room by claiming that he and his family would “weigh out the options of what the NFL thinks of me,” and after Murray snagged the Heisman later that month, Boras said, “When you win [that award], you’re going to have a lot of information come to you and be looked at.”
Another noted sports figure who could appreciate how things can change quickly might be Kliff Kingsbury, who went from being fired as head coach at Texas Tech in November to agreeing to become the offensive coordinator at USC, only to get hired Tuesday as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. As that team is in possession of the No. 1 selection in April’s draft, it wasn’t long before the Internet dug up video from October in which Kingsbury said of Murray, “I’d take him with the first pick of the draft if I could.”
Well, Kingsbury might be able to do just that, although it’s extremely unlikely, if only because the Cardinals presumably hired him to tutor the talented young quarterback they already have, 2018 top-10 draft pick Josh Rosen. Still, his words of praise could carry some weight among NFL teams, as could the rookie exploits of Mayfield, who figures to have bolstered confidence in the ability of recent Oklahoma quarterbacks to succeed at the next level.
ESPN reported Wednesday that sources told the website’s Jeff Passan that the A’s still expect Murray to report for spring training. Their plan calls for him to subsequently begin his professional baseball career with their high-A affiliate in Stockton, Calif.
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