Answering Questions About Kyler Murray's Pending Decision
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Susan Slusser reported on Wednesday night that the expectation now is that Kyler Murray, the A's first-round pick in the 2018 draft, will opt to enter the NFL draft. When the A's drafted and signed Murray, they did so with the agreement that he would be allowed to play one more season at Oklahoma. He ended up being the Heisman Trophy winner, which helped dramatically raise his potential NFL draft stock. Now, there is the chance that Murray may choose simply to play football and will never play a game for the A's, although much is still up-in-the-air.
Can Murray play both sports?
Theoretically, yes. Deion Sanders successfully did just that for a few years, and Brian Jordan managed to have a successful NFL career before focusing on being a baseball player. But as a quarterback, Murray will not be drafted well if he tries to do both—NFL teams want their quarterbacks to eat, sleep and live football year-round. Similarly, in baseball Murray is already behind his peers in terms of at-bats. Missing most of the baseball season playing football would put him further behind.
If Murray plays football, will the A's receive draft-pick compensation?
No. Draft pick compensation in the MLB draft is limited to teams who failed to sign a pick. If the A's had failed to sign Murray, they would have received the 10th pick in the 2019 draft. But since he signed, the A's would retain his rights if he ever opted to return to baseball, but they receive no draft pick compensation.
Financially, wouldn't Murray do better playing baseball?
Actually, as a quarterback, if Murray can make it into the first round of the NFL draft (which he has been projected to do in multiple draft projections), he would likely make more money in football. We covered this extensively last month. The full story explains it much better, but here's one paragraph that summarizes it:
So if Murray gets drafted anywhere in the first round, he will earn somewhere between two and seven times as much money over the next five years in football than he will in baseball. If Murray is even an average NFL quarterback, he will make more than he will as anything other than an All-Star outfielder.
But why? Baseball contracts are guaranteed and NFL contracts aren't.
That's not really true. The only guaranteed money Murray gets in baseball is his $4.6 million signing bonus. Other than that, he has no further guaranteed compensation. If the A's wanted to (they wouldn't) they could release Murray at the end of spring training and not pay him another cent. If Murray suffered a career-ending or career-limiting injury, he could be released at any time. He could also be released with no further financial obligation if he simply plays poorly.
Even if Murray makes it to the major leagues, he would only be paid an MLB salary for his time in the majors. If he's sent back to the minors, he's back on a minor league salary. And if he was then released, he again would have no further money to look forward to. The only guaranteed contracts in baseball are for veterans. If he signed an MLB contract extension, he would then be receiving guaranteed money that would be paid to him even if he was released or injured, but that would likely be many years in the future.
So what happens to his signing bonus?
According to Baseball America's reporting, Murray is slated to receive a significant portion of his $4.6 million signing bonus this year when he reports to spring training. That's relatively standard for many draftees. If he doesn't report, he won't receive it. There is the potential for the A's to try to get back the portion of the signing bonus that they have already paid him.
Why can't the A's just tear up Murray's current contract and give him more money to convince him to give up on playing football?
Before the current draft system, teams did just that to convince two-sport players to play baseball. Third baseman Drew Henson signed a $2 million deal initially to play baseball for the Reds and football for Michigan (where he shared time with a quarterback named Tom Brady). The Yankees eventually traded for Henson and gave him a six-year, $17 million MLB contract to convince him to give up football to play baseball full-time. He ended up being a bust as a baseball player and eventually did play in the NFL after being released from his baseball contract. The White Sox signed 2000 first-round pick Joe Borchard to a $5.3 million deal to convince him to give up football at Stanford. That bonus was $2.3 million more than the first-pick in the draft, Adrian Gonzalez, received that year. The Cubs signed Jeff Samardzija for just $250,000 initially, but then tore up that contract to sign him to a five-year, $10 million contract to keep him from entertaining offers to play in the NFL.
But under the current CBA, a renegotiated contract would likely be considered a circumvention of draft rules. The rule itself has never been tested, but we did see an analogous rule applied with Shohei Ohtani's bidding last offseason. Teams were warned that any attempt to sign Ohtani to a quick extension would be viewed as an attempt to circumvent international bonus limits and would result in potentially hard penalties. Current draft rules prohibit spending more than a team's draft allotment unless a team is willing to suffer future draft pick penalties. Major league contracts are also prohibited for draftees, as are re-negotiated post-draft contracts that would in essence allow a team to get around the bonus restrictions they face when signing draftees. MLB wanted to limit how much teams spend on acquiring players in the draft. When they did so, it was known that such restrictions would likely make it tougher to get two-sport players to choose baseball.