Kyler Murray faces a decision like his dad did — but holds all the power

Kyler Murray faces a decision like his dad did — but holds all the power

Last summer, Oakland A’s draft pick Kyler Murray signed a contract with a $4.66 million signing bonus. After a Heisman-winning football season, Murray then declared for the NFL Draft, opening a door that seemed like it had closed.

Now he’s in a rare position as a professional athlete. Not only does he have the option to play one of two pro sports, he’s likely going to end up being taken in the first round of both drafts.

Making his situation even more unusual, he won’t even be the first person in his family to face a similar career decision.

Spurning professional baseball in favor of football runs in the Murray family.

Both his father (Kevin) and uncle (Calvin) were pro baseball players (Calvin was actually at bat when Randy Johnson exploded that bird). Kevin signed in two sports coming out of high school. He did so once with Texas A&M’s football program in February of his senior year (1982), and again in June’s MLB Draft. After some time in the minors, he decided he wanted to play football.

Murray originally signed a $35,000 deal in 1982 with the Milwaukee Brewers to play professional baseball. Murray played in 41 games for the Brewers’ rookie-league team in Pikeville, Kentucky., batting .171, before heading home for Dallas 10 weeks in.

“It has a culture shock,” he said. “I wasn’t mature enough to deal with it at that point in my life.”

Murray enrolled at Texas A&M in January 1983 with plans of playing football.

“My arm just wasn’t used to baseball; I almost ruined my elbow. I got some tendinitis in there, and it still hurts a little bit,” Murray told The Austin American-Statesman in 1983.

That triggered a legal battle for that $35,000 guaranteed signing bonus.

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The Brewers filed suit and sought an injunction to prevent him from playing for the Aggies, arguing breach of contract. According to the Statesman, Murray thought his obligation to the Brewers was only for one year. The Brewers said he signed a deal that gave the team the right to renew the pact each year for six years, per an article by The Galveston Daily News.

A Brewers executive said under oath that an A&M booster had given Kevin a car and other incentives (Kevin denied that under oath). In the early ‘80s, when the Southwest Conference was the wild west of recruiting violations, that’s not out of the realm of possibility. The allegation followed him for years.

Murray was allowed to play football when a judge struck down the injunction.

The judge ruled Murray breached his contract with the Brewers and in so doing was no longer bound by a contract clause that forbade him to play football. She also ruled the contract amounted to involuntary servitude, prohibited by the 13th Amendment.

He then led the Aggies to two conference championships and broke some records. But after being passed on in the NFL Draft, he ended up not fulfilling his professional promise. Some of that had to do with injury concerns, but his former offensive coordinator alleged Murray was “blackballed.”

Now Kyler faces a similar choice, but this time, the Murray athlete has the leverage.

While his father’s spat was over a $35,000 bonus, Kyler has already earned considerably more.

If he stays on a standard rookie deal, he’ll earn a league minimum of around $555,000 per at least his first two seasons, most likely three. In baseball, rookie deals work like a normal NFL deal: signing bonus up front, but the team can cut him.

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If he’s a first round NFL Draft pick, at minimum he’s looking at a four-year, $10 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus up front, based off projections at each pick slot. If he’s a top-10 pick: $17 million, $11 million signing bonus. Rookie NFL deals for first round players are guaranteed for four years.

Here’s the money in the immediate future of each path:

  • Three years of baseball under his current agreement (excluding the bonus he’s already been given): about $1.66 million (unless he’s so good in his first two years that he’s a special case).
  • If he’s taken 32nd in the NFL Draft, he’s guaranteed more than that before throwing a pass.

Murray knows the NFL will pay him major league money up front. Baseball might have to do the same just to get him in a minor league bus.

There were rumors that Kyler’s camp (he’s repped by baseball super agent Scott Boras) set a hard number to re-do his deal with $10 million more guaranteed from the A’s, clearly due to this NFL leverage.

Furthermore, re-doing Murray’s deal would amount to accelerating the regular process. Baseball contracts go to arbitration for the best players in Year 3. That’s when the team writes what they think he’s worth, Murray writes what he thinks he’s worth, and a third party settles it. But that’s only after (most likely) his third year in the majors … and there’s no guarantee he’d make the majors.

Basically, a reworked deal would mean the A’s giving Murray the if-you-panned-out money up front.

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Kyler’s decision and his skills are each a step beyond Kevin’s.

Football was a fallback for Kyler’s father. He fell out of love with baseball. He was an 11th round baseball pick and got passed over by the NFL Draft. Plenty of athletes have done what Kevin did.

But Kyler’s beyond even the vast majority of athletes drafted by either the NFL or MLB. He’s basically in the <1 percent of <1 percent. Not even Bo Jackson was taken in two first rounds.

The likely last date we’ll figure out if Kyler will play pro football is in mid-February, when he’s supposed to report to spring training. Following that is the NFL Combine. If he doesn’t go to the Combine, this might have been a pure leverage play all along.

The boardroom aspect is separately incredible, only coming about because the A’s let him play another season of football.

Whether they let him do it in good faith or Murray/Boras hardballed their asses off, there is no first round NFL potential if he didn’t play football in 2018. The A’s were within their rights to tell him to sit football out, although that would have likely nuked the relationship. Murray’s contract left the door open, and his athletic talents broke it down.

Kevin Murray is a metaphor for every other athlete caught between two sports. He was just like any employee in any other industry at the mercy of the courts. Kyler Murray, however, took an opportunity and ran with it to a place nobody could have envisioned.