The deadline to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft approaches. So too does the moment of truth for Kyler Murray: baseball or football? He says he’d love to play both, and there’s no reason to believe he’s lying. However, now that society knows the dangers of concussions, no NFL team is letting him stand in against Aroldis Chapman or Jordan Hicks. One errant fastball could ruin their team’s season or their quarterback’s entire career. For as much as everyone would love to see another Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders or Brian Jordan, it’s not likely to happen, least of all with a quarterback.
There’s no harm in Murray exploring the draft. It’s a smart business decision. Being drafted doesn’t mean he has to sign. He should know what his value is in each sport before he makes a decision. There’s no minor league system in the NFL. The toil, bus rides, small crowds, and smaller paychecks might be character building, but there are other paths to maturity that also involve making minimum wage. In terms of immediate impact, the NFL is clearly the more attractive decision. But this isn’t about one year or one paycheck. This is about every year and every paycheck for the rest of his life. When it comes down to it, which is the smarter play: baseball or football?
Kyler Murray’s Dilemma
To reiterate the last point, there is no minor league system in football. There is the draft, then training camp, the preseason, and the season. You have from April until August to prove your worth as an NFL player. On the positive side, success is an immediately tangible thing. Most baseball players spend several years in the minors before cracking a major league roster. In the NFL, the roster wait can be a mere five months. On the negative side, should a player fail to impress in those five months the road to the NFL gets much longer and more difficult. Baseball’s minor league system provides a much safer environment for player development, a place to grow without immediate pressure to produce. However, life in the fast lane is infinitely more appealing. After all, there are plenty of people who work hard when they’ve already made it. There’s no reason Murray couldn’t do the same.
Unsurprisingly, professional sports are riddled with injuries. Football has tackles, accidental blows to the head, facemask tackles, horse collars, low hits and heads bouncing off the turf. Baseball outfielders have the hit-by-pitch (literally anywhere), fouling balls off your legs and feet, hand injuries from getting jammed, injuries from diving catches, outfield collisions, running into walls and awkward slides. The point being, everyone gets hurt at some point. While the injuries in football tend to be more devastating, like Alex Smith‘s broken leg, there are quarterbacks like Tom Brady who play into their forties. Healthy quarterbacks tend to age better than outfielders, but outfielders deal with comparably fewer career-ending or career-altering injuries. Chase Utley into Wilmer Flores aside, baseball injuries for position players tend to be of the less gruesome type.
Football is obviously a big winner here. While both sports have millions of fans and sold out stadiums, baseball’s only prime-time national tv slots are the All-Star Game and the World Series. Football has prime-time national slots every Sunday and Thursday in season. Aaron Rodgers with State Farm, Antonio Brown with Pizza Hut, Dak Prescott with Campbells – there are far more endorsement deals available as a football player. If Murray is looking to build a brand, a successful football career is a much easier path to achieving it.
Advantage: Football, by a lot
Here’s where things begin to get tricky. The highest paid football players earn a similar salary to the highest paid baseball players. However, in 2017, Case Keenum led the Minnesota Vikings to within a game of the Super Bowl on a salary of $2 million. That is roughly half the average salary of a MLB player. Furthermore, the NFL doesn’t have an arbitration system but baseball does. Football pays more the first few seasons, but if you’re a star-level player like Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson or Kris Bryant, baseball’s arbitration system pays you better than the back years of a rookie deal.
Additionally, the average NFL career is three to four years. The average MLB career is six years. The median salary for an NFL quarterback is $1.1 million dollars a year. However, the median salary for an MLB outfielder is $3 million per season. There’s money in superstardom in both sports. That said, football pays it’s elite players better, but baseball pays much better at a general level. While there is no guarantee of stardom in either sport, should Murray be able to establish a major league career, he could easily earn more money as an outfielder than as a back-up quarterback. Jeff Francoeur earned over $27 million in his career without ever making an All-Star team or winning an MVP award. In 2018, Baker Mayfield signed a guaranteed contract for more than Francoeur’s career-earnings. However, another first-round quarterback named Lamar Jackson received less than $10 million guaranteed. If Murray isn’t picked close to the top of the draft or does not prove to be a star, there’s a good chance he’d make more money in baseball.
As referenced earlier, the average MLB career is roughly two years longer than the average NFL career. That’s a significant difference if Murray cannot find stardom in either sport. By virtue of minor league options and less catastrophic injuries, baseball gives a player more chances to find his feet. By virtue of increased chances, baseball also gives players a better chance at delayed superstardom. Jose Bautista did not find his feet as a baseball player until he was 29. Most football players do not even last until 29.
Football contracts seldom come completely guaranteed, giving teams an out if a player gets hurt. Given the nature of the game, this happens more than anyone wants to admit. Once a player clears his arbitration years in baseball, his deals are guaranteed. If he gets hurt, he still gets paid. Combine greater certainty with a higher pay-floor and baseball is the more attractive option.
Additionally, there is a litany of Heisman trophy winners who experienced little or no success at the NFL level. Matt Leinart, Jason White, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow are among those who had mixed results. Other college stars like Ron Dayne, Vince Young, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn, and Jamarcus Russell never really found their feet at the professional level. It’s a big leap. Baseball’s minor league system provides more paths to success than the NFL. Players like Mike Piazza and Albert Pujols were draft afterthoughts who carved out Hall of Fame careers. Guys like Josh Donaldson are given the time they need to develop. If Murray wants a long career, baseball is more likely to give him the chance.
Kyler Murray signed a contract with the Oakland Athletics. That’s non-negotiable. Whether he should have done that or not, whether he can get out of it or not, he signed a contract. That means the scales of decision start slightly tipped toward baseball. If he tries the NFL Draft and goes near the very top, there is enough money in a rookie deal to set him up better financially than in a decade of mediocrity in baseball. The NFL provides greater highs, greater salaries for stardom and greater exposure. It’s the high-risk, high-reward road.
Baseball is a safer, more secure path with more opportunities and more money for non-stars. Murray should absolutely try the NFL Draft, and if he goes in the top five picks, he should play football. The money is simply too good to pass up. If he slides much beyond that, he should stick with baseball. Baseball still provides good money, with more longevity, more chances at stardom, and many fewer hits to the head. Ultimately, Murray could be a first-round NFL pick, and may sign and play football. If he does, it will then be on him to prove it isn’t a mistake.
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