Making the case for Kyler: What should the Heisman-winning outfielder do next?

Oklahoma quarterback and Oakland A’s first-round draft pick Kyler Murray is days away from deciding the next step of his athletic career. The Heisman Trophy winner has until Sunday to declare for the 2019 NFL draft, which would put his baseball career on hold indefinitely in the hopes of beating the odds as an undersized quarterback. We asked Mike Oz, Frank Schwab and Sam Cooper to make the case as to why Kyler Murray should either stick with his original path of playing baseball, declaring for the NFL draft or return to the Sooners for his senior season.

Why Kyler Murray should play baseball

There are a lot of reasons Kyler Murray should put away his shoulder pads and embrace baseball 100 percent but let’s start with this one: If he doesn’t, he’ll have to write a $4.66 million check back to the Oakland Athletics to repay his signing bonus.

If you had a $4.66 million check in your hand, would you give it away for the unknown?

Would you say “thanks, but no thanks” and go back to college to play quarterback with the fear that one linebacker could ruin everything? Would you give the A’s the Heisman hand and say “I’m going to the NFL” where people will be questioning your size and ability? Murray might actually, since he has a Heisman and all.

Even beyond that, the money on the table represents something even bigger in Murray’s decision: A sure thing. A relatively stable and guaranteed path to long-term employment and wealth.

If Kyler Murray doesn’t declare for the NFL draft, he’s expected to report to the A’s in February. (AP)
If Kyler Murray doesn’t declare for the NFL draft, he’s expected to report to the A’s in February. (AP)

The immediate payday may not be that different, actually. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, received a $4.97 million signing bonus and will make more than $7.5 million guaranteed on his standard four-year rookie contract.

But in football, that could be the beginning and end of it. If Murray doesn’t pan out as an NFL quarterback by that point, he could be looking for something else to do. The NFL is fleeting like that, even for Heisman winners and high draft picks. And then there’s the physical risk and the possibility of CTE, both of which are much higher in football than baseball.

Baseball, in this case, is an immediate great payday with a slow build toward a giant one. Yes, he’d have to make his way through the minor leagues, but once Murray hits the big leagues, the arbitration process could quickly topple his NFL earnings and if he hits MLB free agency and is a star player, then we’re talking about the type of guaranteed money pro football just can’t match. Baseball is a sport where a non-household name like Patrick Corbin can get a $140 million guaranteed contract, which he did in December.

It boils down to this: Football could make Murray a bigger star, but possibly for a shorter time. Baseball could make him a richer man with a longer career and a greater possibility to enjoy it all. — Mike Oz

Why Kyler Murray should declare for the NFL draft

From a business standpoint, Kyler Murray’s best choice is baseball. MLB contracts, as we know, are guaranteed and usually larger. On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Brewers signed catcher Yasmani Grandal, a career. 240 hitter, to a one-year, $18.75 million deal. The only NFL player in 2018 with a larger base salary than $18 million was Kirk Cousins. Elite NFL players make a bulk of their money in signing bonuses and not base salary, but Murray would have an easier and healthier path to higher career earnings in baseball. That’s obvious.

But money isn’t everything, and there’s nothing else in American sports that compares to being an NFL quarterback.

All eyes will be on Kyler Murray in the coming days as he makes a decision on his athletic future. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
All eyes will be on Kyler Murray in the coming days as he makes a decision on his athletic future. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

NFL football is the undisputed king, and the 32 NFL starting quarterbacks are on a pedestal. Mike Trout might be the greatest baseball player ever, and the average sports fan probably spent more time last year talking about Blake Bortles. Would you rather be the next Baker Mayfield or Khris Davis? Davis is a very good Oakland A’s outfielder with 133 homers the past three seasons (he led the American League last season with 48), and most backup NFL quarterbacks are probably better known.

It’s also the right time for Murray to make the jump. The 2019 NFL draft isn’t deep at quarterback. Murray is unlikely to drive his stock much higher with another season at Oklahoma, and the longer quarterbacks play in college, the more their games get picked apart by NFL scouts. Besides, why play for free when there is a seven-figure deal waiting for you in the NFL?

Murray could make a fortune in either sport. He’d likely make more in baseball, but remove that part of it for a moment, because there are only so many millions you can spend anyway. Give most people the choice, and they’d rather experience the thrill of playing NFL quarterback than facing the Detroit Tigers on a Thursday afternoon in May. Boys once grew up dreaming about playing in the majors, but it’s not 1956 anymore. Football took over the American consciousness long ago. If Murray does declare for the NFL draft, that would just mean he understands that nothing he could do in baseball would ever replicate playing quarterback on Sundays in the fall. — Frank Schwab

Why Kyler Murray should return to Oklahoma

It seems pretty clear that Kyler Murray’s heart is set on football, but is it any guarantee he’ll be a first-round pick in the NFL?

Murray had a spectacular debut season as a college starting quarterback, but the typical questions remain about a QB who barely stands 5-foot-10 and isn’t even 200 pounds. If he returns to Oklahoma for his senior season, he could spend another college football season honing his skills under the tutelage of a great offensive coach like Lincoln Riley, who developed Baker Mayfield into a No. 1 draft pick.

Oh, and he could help Oklahoma get back to the College Football Playoff to compete with the likes of Alabama and Clemson — like for real this time.

Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray would have a chance of leading Oklahoma to a national title in 2019 if he returned for his senior year. (Getty Images)
Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray would have a chance of leading Oklahoma to a national title in 2019 if he returned for his senior year. (Getty Images)

The variable here is Murray’s contract with the A’s. If he goes to the NFL, he, by almost all accounts, will have to return a significant portion of his lucrative signing bonus. But what happens if he returns to school for another season? Does that give him the ability to tread water and take additional time to weigh his decision and do so without giving the money back?

NCAA rules would allow Murray to report to spring training with the A’s in February and play in the minors before returning to Oklahoma in August before the 2019 college football season begins. If Murray is still torn over the decision of which sport to play, choosing to spend another season with the Sooners could present the best of both worlds.

During his time playing for an Oakland minor league affiliate, he could gain a sense of where he stands as a baseball player — with both his on-field performance and his desire to grind away at the lowest levels of professional ball — before returning to the Sooners to fine tune his skills as a quarterback. And depending upon the language of his contract, Murray could collect the rest of his signing bonus in the process.

I doubt Riley would object to Murray spending the summer away from the team if it meant another season with the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. — Sam Cooper

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