Remember when everyone and their mama thought Kyler Murray was making a mistake by walking away from the Oakland Athletics’ $5 million signing bonus after they made him the No. 9 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft?
Pepperidge Farms remembers.
Today, his average annual salary is higher than the entire Oakland A’s 2022 payroll. On Thursday, Murray and the Cardinals etched that commitment into stone by agreeing to a five-year, $230.5 million contract that guarantees him $160 million. The $46.1 million average annual value of Murray’s contract makes him the second-highest paid player in the NFL. Conveniently, the extra half million on Murray’s deal places him just a hair above Watson, whose guaranteed contract has an average annual value of $46 million.
In the three years since he was drafted, Murray has endured his share of ups and downs, but he has also been electric enough to revitalize the Arizona Cardinals and establish himself as a bonafide franchise quarterback. During the pre-draft process, Murray’s decision to leave baseball behind and risk his long-term health by pursuing a career in the NFL polarized the sports world.
He was diminutive, and while sturdily built, he resembled a hobbit compared to some of the physical specimens under center. Soon after declaring, Murray was only projected as a possible second or third-round pick. Even as he started creeping up draft boards, the world was split over which sport would provide him the most financial support. A slew of media members, baseball purists, and even college football analysts advised Murray to follow the baseball route.
While that might be true for the average prospect, Murray wasn’t just any college football player. He was a phenom at quarterback who went 42-0 playing at the highest level of football in Texas, then won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as a starter. There was no way a guy like that was going to leave football behind to toil in the minors in the hopes of becoming the next Andrew McCutchen. His ceiling was to be a star in baseball and a household name in the NFL.
The highest annual 2022 salary for a player in the sport Murray left behind is Max Scherzer’s $43.33 million deal with the New York Mets. Granted, the lack of a 100 percent guaranteed contract is one difference between Murray’s contract and baseball’s most lucrative long-term deals, but given the way quarterback contracts are trending, that future may not be far off.
However, assuming Kyler Murray will play out his contract, the average annual value of his deal would make him the second-highest paid quarterback in NFL history. Scherzer’s $110 million contract is guaranteed for only three years, which still puts him $50 million behind Murray. In fairness to baseball, Murray’s $160 million guaranteed would only be the 13th highest guaranteed money in Major League Baseball.
While Murray’s peers in MLB have to navigate arbitration, he’s making the type of money the top players 25-and-under will have to wait years to earn in free agency.
The players earning more guaranteed money than Murray are Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Stephen Strasburg, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado, Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, and Mookie Betts. Lindor, who signed a 10-year, $341 million deal last spring at 27 is the youngest of that set of highly-compensated players.
Mets slugger Pete Alonso was drafted two years before Murray, made his major league debut on Opening Day of the 2019 season, won NL Rookie of the Year, and slugged 53 home runs to set a new MLB rookie record. That’s earned him a one-year $7.4 million contract with two more years of service time left before he can explore free agency.
Everyone gave their two cents on the economics of Murray’s choice to play football, but at the end of the day, he has proven with his play that he was worth more.