Kyler Murray’s options are tantalizing, but his decision is far from easy.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday night that the Oakland A’s expect the Oklahoma quarterback and their first-round draft pick last year to declare for the NFL Draft on Sunday.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft is Jan. 14, next Monday.
According to the Chronicle, citing unnamed sources, Murray making himself eligible for the draft this April is not “contractually significant” for the A’s.
On Feb. 15, A’s position players report to Mesa, Ariz., for big-league camp. If Murray is among them, that could be a strong indication that he’ll opt for baseball. If he’s not, then his football dream is likely alive and well.
The NFL scouting combine begins Feb. 26, and if Murray intends to be in the NFL Draft, he’ll be focusing his training on the combine rather than spring training baseball.
If Murray does begin his professional baseball career next month and skips the combine, it would likely mean a precipitous drop in interest from NFL teams, who would be concerned about wasting one of their precious seven draft picks — especially a first-rounder — on someone who might rather play baseball.
Yet, it would seem that if Murray does want to keep playing football in the pros, the only way he’d do so — and shun baseball, and give back most of the $4.66 million signing bonus he got from the A’s last year — is if he received concrete assurances that he’d be a first-round or early second-round pick in the NFL Draft.
Simply put, if Murray plays football, it’s because he’s a first-rounder. If he starts baseball, he probably won’t be a first-rounder.
The Heisman Trophy winner has a lot to think about.
One thing on his mind might playing both, though that seems unlikely as a quarterback.
“I would love to do that,” Murray said in December. “I’ve always been a guy with many options. I try and keep ‘em open as long as possible. Yeah, if that was possible, I’d definitely be open to it.”
On the surface, giving up football — the game he loves best, the game he’s probably best-suited to play — seems smart. The risk of injury and long-term damage to his body is far greater playing football. Centerfielders don’t get blindsided by 320-pound defensive tackles, don’t get their knees wrenched by 250-pound linebackers, don’t get driven out of bounds by 220-pound safeties.
But Murray has learned this past season just how good at football he really is.
He’s a more polished passer than Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, two fleet-footed quarterbacks he’s often compared to. He’s faster than Russell Wilson, another 5-foot-10 QB he resembles.
Vick was the No. 1 overall pick with Atlanta in the 2001 Draft. Wilson, who also played baseball, was a third-round pick in 2012 for Seattle. Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, was the last pick of the first round, 32nd overall, for Baltimore in last year’s draft.
Jackson got a contract worth $9.5 million, including more than $8 million guaranteed, then won the job at midseason and led the Ravens to the playoffs.
If Murray were a mid-first-rounder, he’d get money well in excess of Jackson’s contract, which would more than double what he got last summer from the A’s.
According to the Chronicle, Murray would have to repay the A’s signing bonus if he didn’t report to the team this year, but the A’s would retain his draft rights if he changed his mind down the road.
A’s general manager David Forst told the Chronicle in December, “We are still confident he will be playing baseball in February and beyond.”
Agent Scott Boras told the Chronicle last month, “He has every intention to be in spring training and advance that interest.”
But as the NFL has continued to evolve more toward college football tendencies, teams have begun to value mobile quarterbacks, and they seem to no longer devalue 6-foot-and-under quarterbacks strictly on their height. Murray’s predecessor at Oklahoma, Baker Mayfield, stands just a shade over 6-foot, was the No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL Draft, nearly led the Browns to the playoffs and likely will be named NFL Rookie of the Year.
Oh, as the No. 1 overall pick, Mayfield also got $32.7 million.
In his first year running Lincoln Riley’s offense at Oklahoma, Murray broke many of Mayfield’s records — which he didn’t set until his third season under Riley. That speaks to Murray’s natural football IQ.
Of course the NFL is interested in Kyler Murray. One NFL team spent a first-round draft pick on Tim Tebow. All it takes is one GM, one coach, one owner.
For what it’s worth, former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said in October that he’d draft Murray with the No. 1 pick. Yes, the same Kliff Kingsbury who was just named head coach of the Arizona Cardinals—the team that owns the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.
Kyler is a freak, man,” told KLBK’s Eric Kelly last season. “… I’ve followed him since he was a sophomore in high school. I just think the world of him and what he can do on a football field. I’ve never seen one better in high school, and he’s starting to show it now on the college level. I don’t have enough good things to say about him. He’s phenomenal.
“I’ve never seen him have a poor outing. Not one, which as a quarterback is impossible to do, but he’s done it. I’d take him with the first pick in the draft, if I could. I know he’s signed up to play baseball, but he is a dominant player and I would take him with the first pick.”
Maybe Kingsbury was just blowing smoke as Tech’s head coach. Or maybe Cardinals management is happy with last year’s first-round pick, Josh Rosen. Or maybe Kingsbury doesn’t have that kind of clout with his new team yet.
But it’s clear that NFL types of all generations think very highly of Murray’s football skills.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.