The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Five Reasons Why Kyler Murray Will Choose Football

University of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was awarded the Heisman Trophy Saturday night, becoming the latest two-sport athlete to win the prestigious honor as the country’s best college player.  Murray also has a baseball background and was drafted in the first round of the MLB Amateur Draft in June by the Oakland A’s.  In fact, he has already signed a contract with the A’s earning him a bonus of $4.66 million.

Murray is now faced with the decision of which sport he will pursue professionally, or whether he could possibly do both.  Former Heisman winner Bo Jackson (Auburn, 1985) has experience with this type of decision.  He wound up being an all-star player in both sports.  Prior to Jackson, a couple of other Heisman Trophy winners were also accomplished baseball players.  Vic Janowicz, who won the award in 1950 as an Ohio State running back, played two brief major league seasons with Pittsburgh before entering the NFL.  Howard “Hopalong” Cassady was another running back from Ohio State who also played baseball for the Buckeyes.  He won the Heisman 1955 and eventually became a baseball scout and minor-league coach in the New York Yankees organization after an eight-year NFL career.

Murray has already indicated he will not be returning to play a final football season at Oklahoma next year.  He is eligible for the next NFL Draft in April and is expected to be a late first-round or second-round pick, since young, top-flight quarterbacks are always in demand.  His major drawback as a potential NFL quarterback is his size; he’s only 5-foot-11.

Murray’s baseball agent, Scott Boras, had previously said his client will honor his commitment and report to spring training with the A’s in February.  The consensus of sports talk shows seems to favor Murray picking baseball as his career sport, largely because he may be too small for the NFL.

But don’t be too quick to dismiss his pursuit of an NFL job.  Here are five reasons why Murray will ultimately choose to play pro football:

  1. Despite his size, Murray has proven football skills, as evidenced by this year’s impressive performance, statistically one of the best ever for a college quarterback.  It can be argued that he was signed to a pro baseball contract based on his potential.  In fact, he played only one season of college baseball at Oklahoma as a regular starter.  It’s not a certainty he will become an accomplished professional baseball player.

  2. He’ll be a high draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft because of his Heisman status.  There will be at least one team willing to take a chance on him as a viable QB.  If he makes it, the potential for an NFL quarterback’s salary would be comparable to an MLB salary.

  3. Murray will likely play right away in the NFL, or at worst in his second season if his team allows him a year to adjust to the pro game.  He’s looking at a minimum of three years to play regularly in major-league baseball, since he’ll require considerably more development of his batting and fielding skills.

  4. Assuming his football skills translate well in the NFL, his potential for superstar-level notoriety is greater as a football player.  The NFL does a better job than Major League Baseball in marketing and promoting its sport and players.  His NFL image will generate more off-the-field financial opportunities than a major league baseball persona.

  5. There was a reason Murray worked out a deal with the A’s that allowed him to play at Oklahoma this season.  He wanted an opportunity to prove his football skills at a high level.  There could be a scenario where he decides to give the NFL a try first; and if it turns out he’s not successful, he could always revert to baseball, where Oakland would still have the rights to him.

Unlike Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, who both played in the MLB and NFL simultaneously for a short period, Murray won’t likely try to play both sports professionally at the same time.  As an NFL quarterback, Murray will require considerable specialized coaching and preparation during the off-season, which would limit the amount of time he is actually available to play baseball.

There have been a few other Heisman winners with baseball interests, although they never reached the major leagues.

Chris Weinke had to weigh a scholarship offer to play football at Florida State against a pro baseball contract following his 2nd round selection by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990 MLB Draft.  He initially chose baseball and played six seasons in the Blue Jays minor-league organization, before entering Florida State to play football.  He ultimately won the Heisman Trophy in 2000 as a 28-year-old and then played in the NFL for five seasons.

Ricky Williams (Texas, 1998) and Jameis Winston (Florida State, 2013) were Heisman Trophy winners with baseball in their backgrounds.  Williams played in the minors for the Philadelphia Phillies organization while at the same time playing football at the University of Texas.  Winston, a 15th round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2012, played baseball at Florida State.

Of course, Tim Tebow’s sports career is well-chronicled with his decision to pursue a pro baseball career after winning the Heisman in 2007 and having an abbreviated NFL career.  Tebow will enter his third season in the New York Mets minor-league system, targeted for the Triple-A level in 2019.  The verdict is still out whether he will reach the big-league club.

Although not a Heisman Trophy winner, current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was in a similar situation as Murray, except he was a senior in high school when he made his decision which sport to pursue.  After finishing high school, Mahomes, a pitcher who was the MaxPreps Player of the Year and whose father was a major-league pitcher for 11 seasons, was drafted in 2014 by the Detroit Tigers.  However, he opted to attend Texas Tech to play football instead of pursing a diamond career, and he has now emerged as one of the top QBs in the NFL this season.

 

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