The full list of 338 invitees to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine later this month are now out, and one name stands out: Kyler Murray. The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Oklahoma has apparently decided to keep up the potential for choosing a future in football over baseball.
His presence in Indianapolis was questionable, thanks in part to one of the most cringeworthy interviews any athlete has conducted in years. In a promotional spot with the Dan Patrick Show during Super Bowl week, Murray seems unprepared, disinterested, confused and incapable of thinking for himself all wrapped into one cold fish burrito.
Murray has an option to play for the Oakland A’s in MLB. That team made him the No. 9 overall pick in baseball’s last draft class as an outfielder with tremendous speed and a great arm. He signed a $5 million contract, one which allowed him to still play football for Oklahoma last fall.
When he signed that deal, nearly everyone presumed he was sticking to baseball. It’s a much easier sport to earn bigger money in than football, even playing quarterback. His lack of size -- he’s listed at 5-9 and 195 pounds, both of which seem a little inflated -- and no real college starting experience seemed to make becoming a viable NFL prospect seem like a pipe dream.
And then he dominated college football.
Murray picked up right where predecessor Baker Mayfield left off. In the same offense, Murray nearly matched Mayfield’s gaudy passing stats. He also topped 1,000 yards on the ground, some 700 more than Mayfield did. Murray ran the run-pass option (RPO) as well as any quarterback ever had; normally an RPO-centric QB is markedly better running (think Josh Allen) or throwing (think Deshaun Watson). Murray checks off both boxes emphatically.
Now Murray is considered one of the two best QBs in a class where many analysts cringe at the relative quality and depth. That scarcity of supply could push Murray into the top 10 overall picks even with his unconventional style and legitimate size and experience concerns.
The question now is, will any NFL team force him to make the decision?
If he does opt for football and gets picked in the first round, he will indeed earn more money over his first five years than his A’s contract pays out. Josh Allen was the No. 7 pick in 2018 and he signed with the Bills for just over $21 million fully guaranteed for four years, with a fifth-year option at the team’s discretion. Lamar Jackson was the final pick of the first round. He inked a $9.4 million deal for his first four seasons, just over $8 million of which is guaranteed.
That’s the short-term view for Murray. If he’s great, and that’s a big “if”, his second NFL contract could approach the sort of ridiculous salaries MLB pays out. The average major leaguer earns over $4 million a year and has a career longevity more than double the average NFL player.
For the sake of argument, let’s consider Murray’s likelihood of being a successful player in football and baseball equal. Being a top-10 pick in both sports, that seems fair based on promise and athletic potential. I don’t follow baseball enough to know exactly how he’s viewed in MLB circles, so I’m projecting here.
I do know how Murray is viewed in NFL circles. He was a hot topic of conversation during Shrine Game and Senior Bowl weeks, and to say opinions are divided is like saying Trump and Clinton don’t see eye to eye. I can find you personnel evaluators from at least six NFL teams that won’t even consider him because of his size and lack of experience. It’s not just starting experience, but “doing NFL things” kind of experience.
Right or wrong, many NFL teams want nothing to do with a dual-threat QB. Right or wrong, that’s the only prism through which they’ll view him. Right or wrong, being three inches shorter than Mayfield or Drew Brees, both of whom took extreme criticism for not being big enough, is a giant stop sign for old-school GMs, coaches and scouts.
Then there’s the baseball angle. As a hypothetical situation, let’s say he goes to the New York Giants in the first round. The transition to fitting into the offense built around Eli Manning doesn’t go rosily, and he’s a backup who doesn’t get many first-team reps in practice and only sees action in mop-up duty. Manning plays just well enough to convince the Giants he’s worth starting another season. Would Murray be content sitting, or would he rather go and actually play in a sport where he can earn considerably more money?
Nobody can answer that except Murray himself. Given how badly he struck out the last time a softball version of that question was pitched his way, it’s difficult to believe an NFL GM would be comfortable trusting in Murray to stick out the football path.
I don’t believe any NFL team is that secure in their evaluation of Murray or his dedication to football that he will get drafted in the first round. And if he’s not a first-round QB, he’d be an absolute fool to choose football.
He can change that perception at the Combine. He’d better, or else he’s getting tagged out in a poorly executed game of chicken between baseball and football.