Kyler Murray’s decision to choose football over baseball received some immediate justification of the financial variety Thursday when he signed his rookie contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The NFL draft’s No. 1 pick will receive approximately $35 million in guaranteed money, per reports, far more than he would have initially made with the Oakland A’s.
Murray was the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft last June before taking over from Baker Mayfield as the Oklahoma Sooners’ starting quarterback and setting the college football world on fire, earning the Heisman Trophy in the process. The A’s gave him a signing bonus worth $4.66 million and then, as Murray began seriously contemplating the NFL in January, reportedly offered him an additional $14 million to keep a bat in his hands.
That sum of $18.66 million would have been an awful lot for someone just starting a career in professional baseball, but it was less than the $23.6 million signing bonus handed to him by the Cardinals Thursday, a day before the start of their rookie minicamp. Murray’s Arizona contract has the fifth-year option standard for all first-round draft picks, but if he plays reasonably well he will almost certainly be locked up to a lucrative extension before the pact is complete.
“Everything I dreamed of,” the 21-year-old Murray said (via azcardinals.com). “For me, being in Arizona and being a Cardinal, I can honestly say there is no place I’d rather be. It brings a smile to my face knowing I’ll get the opportunity of a lifetime to quarterback this team. I just have to work toward that and earn that.”
While quarterback contracts have ballooned in recent years, with Russell Wilson’s four-year, $140 million extension just the latest market-setting megadeal, top MLB players make far more. In fact, putting together the two biggest NFL quarterback contracts — Wilson’s plus Matt Ryan’s five-year, $150 million pact — still doesn’t get you to the $430 million the Los Angeles Angels agreed to bestow upon Mike Trout over the next 12 years.
The average annual salary paid to MLB superstars, including the likes of Justin Verlander and Nolan Arenado, is actually roughly equal to that of elite NFL quarterbacks. But the much larger overall figures in baseball reflect the fact the sport is less taxing on its players, who thus can be expected to enjoy longer careers. That was a major argument some made for Murray to stick with the A’s, and he certainly wouldn’t be blamed if he were concerned about the possibility of brain injuries. In opting for football, though, he took a much quicker route to a huge payday.
Actually, that should be huge paydays because Murray can play his way, as noted, to a lucrative extension in around four years. Compare that to his likely path in baseball, which would have involved a period of low wages in the minor leagues followed by six years in the majors before unrestricted free agency.
That probable delay in Murray making an appreciable impact at the major league level would also have adversely affected his marketability, and that’s before noting that he wasn’t exactly viewed as a sure bet to become an all-star-caliber player. Contrast that with the NFL, where his cachet as a Heisman winner who went No. 1 in the much-watched draft has given him a major boost toward household-name status before he has even had a chance to display his explosive talents on Sundays.
In other words, Murray is well-positioned to make much more money off the field right away than he would have as a baseball player. In the meantime, he has, as they say, 35 million reasons to feel good about choosing football.
“This is just the beginning,” Murray said. “I plan to work as hard as I can, lead this team to a lot of wins and, hopefully, a lot of rings.”
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