Football or Baseball: Kyler Murray's Dilemma Ahead of NFL Draft

(Bloomberg) -- Kyler Murray is poised to make history at Thursday night’s NFL draft.

The electric Oklahoma quarterback could become the only athlete to ever be picked in the first round of both the National Football League and Major League Baseball drafts. Many observers think he’ll go with the first pick to the Arizona Cardinals.

But why is Murray even at the NFL draft, given he has guaranteed baseball riches waiting for him? If you watched any college football last year, you know the story.

Murray was a blue-chip college football recruit whose career fizzled at Texas A&M. He transferred to Oklahoma, where he sat out the requisite year only to languish behind 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield on the depth chart.

The downtime served him well. Murray played college baseball, where his standout 2018 season was enough to tantalize the Oakland A’s into choosing him with the ninth overall pick in last summer’s amateur draft. Murray got a $4.66 million signing bonus and, unexpectedly, was given permission to play one more year of football at Oklahoma -- a move that was supposed to help him get football out of his system.

Watching an Oklahoma game last year reminded fans of the risk Murray was taking. Every breathtaking scramble was a seven figure wager, an act of throwing caution to the wind to fulfill a dream of playing top-tier college football.

Now, after a Heisman-Trophy winning season, Murray’s stock has shot up NFL draft boards and he’s positioned to earn even greater fortunes as a quarterback. He’s publicly committed to playing football, where he’ll probably make more money in a shorter period of time.

There’s no straightforward way to compare potential career earnings between the NFL and MLB. For starters, football contracts aren’t fully guaranteed. Players sign deals with big headline numbers but often receive a fraction of that sum. And then there’s the higher risk of injury and, typically, shorter careers in football.

Baseball has two strikes against it: The crucible of minor league baseball and the six years of major league service a player needs to reach free agency. A 2017 study published by the Society for American Baseball Research showed that 77 percent of the 158 college position players drafted in the first or supplemental round from 1996 to 2011 made it out of the minor leagues. But only 60 percent managed to play more than three plus years in the majors.

Football or Baseball: Kyler Murray's Dilemma Ahead of NFL Draft

The top pick in this year’s NFL draft is expected to receive a four-year contract worth $34.9 million according to Spotrac.com, a website that specializes in coverage of team payrolls and player contracts. Of that $34.9 million, approximately $23.4 million is expected to be guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.

Assuming Murray played just two years in the minors, it could take him an another five years in baseball just to top the signing bonus for the first overall pick in the NFL draft, using Ronald Acuna Jr.’s recent $100 million, eight year contract with the Atlanta Braves as a guide.

By then he could be off his rookie contract in the NFL and on to a lucrative long-term, albeit not fully-guaranteed deal.

Football or Baseball: Kyler Murray's Dilemma Ahead of NFL Draft

Andrew Luck is the most recent NFL quarterback drafted first overall to outplay his rookie deal. Luck signed a five year contract worth $123 million with $44 million guaranteed in 2016. Despite a lost year due to injuries, Luck has already received $75 million of that through 2018.

And that’s not to mention the increased endorsement opportunities the NFL has to offer. Baseball’s best player, Mike Trout, makes an estimated $2.5 million annually in endorsement money, according to Forbes. That’s half of the estimated $5 million that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan -- hardly the NFL’s most marketable player -- pulled in last year.

Murray’s decision to pursue a career in the NFL has already resulted in his returning $1.29 million of the $1.5 million signing bonus the A’s paid him in 2018. He’s forfeited the remaining $3.16 million. If all goes according to plan on Thursday night, it won’t take long for him to recoup the loss.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.