Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray was considered a fringe first-round baseball prospect a month ago, but few people would have guessed that he’d go to the Oakland A’s in the top 10 of Monday’s draft, since Murray is planning to play football for the Sooners in the fall. The Athletics clearly decided that the 20-year-old was too enticing of a prospect to pass on.
For his part, Murray has been very clear about his desire to play football, and he’s under no obligation to sign with the A’s and ditch his team. OU coach Lincoln Riley said he expects Murray to compete for the quarterback job, and Murray’s been waiting to lead the Sooners since he transferred to OU from Texas A&M in 2015, then backed up Baker Mayfield, who went to the NFL this year. Murray played in seven football games last season, throwing for 349 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 142 yard on 14 carries, and he is the favorite to win the QB job over Austin Kendall. Perhaps because of his immense potential as a dual threat, Oklahoma has the best early odds to win the Big 12. As a former five-star recruit who sat out the 2016 season then played backup for a year, Murray is probably thrilled with the prospect of leading a potential College Football Playoff team.
The A’s clearly expect Murray to eventually choose baseball over football, which seems likely since Murray is 5-foot-10 and does not appear to have an easy NFL future. Recent athletes like Russell Wilson and Jeff Samardzija have had to choose between football and baseball. The difference between Wilson and Murray is that Murray is due a signing bonus of $4.76 million because he was the ninth overall pick, whereas Wilson went in the fourth round and signed for $200,000. If Murray doesn’t sign a contract by July 13, the A’s lose the money he’s due from their bonus pool.
The A’s have good reason to risk $5 million on a small quarterback they know will get tackled a whole bunch. Murray is an athletic center fielder who has shown the ability to capably lock down that position while also hitting for power and stealing bases. He posted a 296/.398/.556 slash line along with 10 dingers and 10 steals in 51 games at OU last season, and did it all while participating in spring football practices. If the only thing holding him back was his unwillingness to leave football, these are the risks a small-payroll team feels most comfortable making, since the A’s need to find value anywhere they can.
As for Murray, he’s also taking a big risk by not committing fully to baseball. Not only does football come with long-term injury concerns, but NFL contracts are smaller and less secure than baseball deals. (Samardzija, who now sucks, still will have earned about $88 million over his 12 years of baseball.) The most likely scenario is that Murray signs with the A’s, plays for the Sooners this fall, then reports to Oakland after the football season is over. The NCAA’s exploitative amateurism regulations thankfully allow an athlete to earn money in a sport while maintaining eligibility in another, so long as they don’t sign any endorsement deals. May Murray avoid having his knee chewed up by a tumbling defensive lineman.