Last Sunday, a day after Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy, I opined on Twitter that Murray should focus on an NFL career and not professional baseball, even after receiving a $4.6 million signing bonus from the Oakland Athletics after being drafted No. 9 overall.
“I’m all-in on Murray ditching baseball and going for football,” I tweeted.
Also, I’m all-in on Murray ditching baseball and going for football. Forget the minor leagues, bus trips, and the possibility of never making it big in MLB.— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 9, 2018
In the NFL, you play now, get paid now, become a star now. And you can make big bucks as an NFL QB
“Forget the minor leagues, bus trips, and the possibility of never making it big in MLB. In the NFL, you play now, get paid now, become a star now. And you can make big bucks as an NFL QB.”
Many readers disagreed, and let me know about it with some colorful language, as tends to happen on social media. But I didn’t respond, because Twitter and its 280-character limit is a terrible space to build an argument.
Instead, I’ll respond to the tweets here, and lay out why, assuming Murray likes both sports about the same, he should choose the NFL over MLB. Helping me build the case is J.J. Cooper, the executive editor of Baseball America who wrote a similar column last week:
■ @deadsiox9: This is a joke right? Baseball money is guaranteed. Football career is on average so short.
Your argument holds water for almost every NFL position. If Murray were a running back or a linebacker, playing baseball would be a no-brainer. Jeff Samardzija, a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame who will make at least $127 million as a decent MLB pitcher, made the right decision.
But quarterbacks are different. High-end quarterbacks are currently getting paid $25 million-$30 million per year. Average starting quarterbacks get $15 million-$20 million. Veteran backups can get $5 million-$10 million. Those numbers are going up every year.
Matt Stafford already has made more than $178 million in his career. Andrew Luck, who has only played under the current collective bargaining agreement, will make more than $161 million in his first 10 years. Kirk Cousins, a fourth-round pick in 2012, already has made $72.6 million by age 30.
And quarterbacks are a protected species in the NFL, with the rules designed for them to have long, productive careers. There’s this guy in New England who is still going strong at 41 years old. Peyton Manning and his bum throwing arm made it to 39. This year has seven starting quarterbacks 35 or older (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick). Also still kicking around are Josh McCown, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Matt Schaub.
Meanwhile, Cooper points out that “there are more starting quarterbacks 35 or older in the NFL than there are outfielders in Major League Baseball 35 or older. That’s apples to apples.”
■ @MattyFurtado: Get paid now . . . he already made 4 mill from the A’s. Trollin Volin at it again.
It’s true, the Athletics already have agreed to pay Murray a $4.6 signing bonus. Murray has to report to spring training next year to receive it.
That $4.6 million would have to last Murray several years if he chooses baseball. Murray first has to report to the minor leagues, where he’ll be making peanuts (starting around $1,500 per month) and living off fast food and long bus rides. Cooper said that Murray has fewer at-bats than most of his peers, and in a best-case scenario, could fly through the minor leagues in two years and be ready for MLB in 2021.
Then Murray would make a league-minimum MLB salary for his first three seasons — around $600,000 per year — wouldn’t hit arbitration until 2023 at the earliest, and wouldn’t hit unrestricted free agency until 2026, when Murray is 28 and turning 29 years old.
And that’s a best-case scenario. Murray could dwell in the minor leagues for a long time, or never make it at all. It could take him 8-10 years of pro ball to get that big free agent contract. Getting drafted No. 9 overall means little.
“There are very, very few sure things when you talk about the progression from being drafted to making the majors,” Cooper said. “And when you sign a long-term contract extension, usually those don’t come around until you’re 28, 29 or 30.”
■ @jay_azey: Yes, but in the long run there is much more money in baseball. Guaranteed money.
Not true for quarterbacks, especially those drafted in the first round. Lamar Jackson, the No. 32 overall pick this year, got a $4.97 million signing bonus, and will make a total of $9.47 million over four years. Even if Jackson is a bust, $9.47 million over four years is more than Murray would make in his first four years of pro baseball.
And if Murray can be a top-10 NFL pick, there is big money waiting for him. Baker Mayfield, picked No. 1 last year, signed a four-year, fully guaranteed contract worth $32.6 million, with a potential fifth-year option that should be close to $25 million. Josh Rosen, the No. 10 pick last year, got $17.6 million fully guaranteed, plus a potential fifth-year option.
■ @WillTheThrill2k: And he can have CTE or he can play 15 years and live a healthy life after his career.
It’s true, football is the more dangerous sport. But the NFL continually implements rules to protect quarterbacks, and we already mentioned how there are more 35-year-old quarterbacks than outfielders.
And the prevalence and impact of CTE may be overstated. The Boston University study finding 110 out of 111 former NFL players with CTE has generated the most publicity, but a recent study in the journal Neurology found that the prevalence of CTE in NFL players could be more in the 10-20 percent range.
Baseball isn’t totally safe, either — ask Juan Encarnacion or Adam Greenberg — and the injury risk is still there.
“You blow out your knee and your career is ruined in A-ball, you don’t keep getting paid,” Cooper said.
@jtratty: You are assuming Murray won’t be a bust, a running QB at 5-11 190 doesn’t last long.
Murray is actually listed at 5-10, and that may be generous. He is definitely undersized, which works against him. Then again, Russell Wilson is 5-11, and Mayfield and Drew Brees are both 6 feet. If you have poise, athleticism and can find the throwing lanes — and Murray looks to be excellent at all three — then size doesn’t matter as much.
If Murray is a first-round pick — and Adam Schefter already reported that one GM expects Murray will be — then he’ll still make more early in his football career than he would in baseball, even as a bust. Robert Griffin III, picked second, has made $29.2 million over seven years. Johnny Manziel, picked 22nd, made $5.54 million over two years. Paxton Lynch, picked 26th, made $8.34 million over three years.
The decision becomes trickier if Murray is a second- or third-round pick. Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-rounder, made $3 million in his first four years. Wilson, a third-rounder, made $2.2 million over his first three years.
Garoppolo and Wilson later cashed in, because they are great players – Garoppolo just signed a five-year, $137 million contract, while Wilson will have made more than $91 million in career earnings after next year, and is set to hit free agency again at 31.
If Murray is a bust as a non-first round pick, then he may regret taking a shot at football. Then again, there is no guarantee Murray will make it in MLB, even as the No. 9 overall pick. Cooper said that 25 percent of MLB first-round picks from 2014-15 were left unprotected in the recent Rule 5 Draft.
There’s obviously a gamble for Murray, given that no one knows how his career would pan out in either spot.
But quarterbacks get paid big money, and can play a long time. Add in the overwhelming popularity of the NFL compared with MLB, and the fact quarterbacks are bona fide stars who get Campbell’s Chunky Soup commercials, and the choice for Murray seems clear — return the baseball money and take a shot with the NFL.
YARDS AFTER CATCH
Gordon doing top work after catch
Colleague Mike Giardi of the NFL Network pointed out last week that since Week 4, the week Josh Gordon joined the Patriots, Gordon leads the NFL in yards per catch (18.0), as Gordon has 39 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns.
Gordon’s yards after catch numbers in that time period are equally impressive. He has gained 274 yards after catch, for a 7.0 average that ranks second among all wide receivers, behind Carolina’s D.J. Moore (7.7). Gordon had 50 yards after the catch on his five receptions last week against Miami, consistently churning out extra yardage and moving the chains.
On the other end of the YAC spectrum is Rob Gronkowski, who is having a career-worst season. Gronk is averaging just 4.3 yards after catch, which ranks just 15th among tight ends, down a full yard from last year (5.3), and is the lowest of his nine-year career. In 2015, Gronkowski led all tight ends with 7.6 yards after catch, and before this year, his career average was 6.4. Gronk had 30 YAC last week on his eight catches.
Odds and ends at season’s end
The Chargers-Chiefs game marked the final Thursday night game of the 2018 NFL season. Looking back at the 17 games this season, the home teams had a clear advantage both on the scoreboard and against the spread:
■ The home teams went 13-4 (.765) on Thursday night, and 11-4-2 (.733) against the spread. On all other days, home teams have a .600 win percentage, and are 89-96-5 (.481) against the spread.
■ Three of the 13 home victories were upsets: The Bengals were 1-point underdogs in their 34-23 win over the Ravens, the 49ers were 1½-point underdogs in their 34-3 win over the Raiders, and the Cowboys were 7½-point underdogs in their 13-10 victory over the Saints.
■ Three of the four road wins went to teams that were favored: The Eagles were 2-point favorites in their 34-13 win at the Giants, the Broncos were 1-point favorites in their 45-10 win at the Cardinals, and the Bears were 3-point favorites in their 23-16 win at the Lions.
■ Only one road win was an upset: The Chargers were 3½-point underdogs in their 29-28 win over the Chiefs.
■ The Chargers also were the only road underdog to cover. The Vikings also pushed in their 38-31 loss at the Rams, and the Packers pushed in their 27-24 loss at the Seahawks.
PLANS FOR RAIDERS
They should play at Levi’s Stadium
The Raiders know they are going to play one game internationally next year, whether it’s in London or Mexico City.
As for the other seven games? The team and the league have no idea.
The city of Oakland filed a lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL last week over the team’s move to Las Vegas in 2020, cutting off negotiations with the team about extending their lease at the Oakland Coliseum for the 2019 season. Raiders owner Mark Davis is keeping all options open, including playing games in San Diego, Oakland or any number of cities such as Portland or Salt Lake City.
We would love to see the Raiders become a true barnstorming team next year, playing games in San Diego, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Toronto, St. Louis, San Antonio, London, and Mexico City. But the most realistic scenario, by far, is for the Raiders to share Levi’s Stadium with the 49ers for a year. It keeps the Raiders in the Bay Area, allows them to sell tickets to their fan base, and doesn’t force them to move operations for a year or play away from home.
The San Jose Mercury News reported officials in Santa Clara, Calif., were looking at the 49ers’ lease agreement, which allows for two teams to play there as long as the 49ers approve it.
The NFL announced at its quarterly owners meetings last week that the 2019 salary cap will be between $187 million and $191.1 million, up from $177 million this year. That’s great news for impending free agents such as Patriots Trey Flowers and Trent Brown, with teams forced to spend big money in free agency to meet minimum spending requirements. But don’t forget that the salary cap in 2011 went down from where it was two years prior, then remained relatively flat for the next two seasons, despite NFL revenues increasing each year. The salary cap has been increasing steadily by $10 million-$12 million each year since 2014, but the cap really should be between $225 million-$250 million if the growth had remained steady. Count another win for the owners . . . Aaron Donald looks like the clear winner for Defensive Player of the Year, but the Chiefs’ Chris Jones is making a late run. Jones is second in the NFL with 14 sacks, and is the first player in NFL history with a sack in 10 straight games. Jones was unblockable Thursday night against the Chargers, compiling 2½ sacks and eight QB hits . . . There needs to be more accountability with the officials for missing blatant helmet-to-helmet hits. Walt Anderson’s crew missed two on the Chargers’ final drive — a double hit to Travis Benjamin’s head, and a shot to Philip Rivers, who is supposed to get even greater protection as a quarterback. Referees have been missing these blatant hits all season, which not only is a missed 15-yard penalty, but doesn’t help the NFL’s player safety PR campaign . . . However, umpire Jerry Ellison essentially was suspended for one week and docked a game check ($9,300) for his confrontation with Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes two weeks ago. Hughes was fined $53,482 for his role in it . . . The best signing of the week: The Saints adding right tackle Derek Newton, two years after he suffered a freak injury with the Texans and simultaneously tore the patellar tendon in both of his knees. No NFL player has returned from this injury . . . Mike Zimmer looks as if he’s feeling the heat with last week’s firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. If the Vikings go one-and-done or miss the playoffs, Zimmer could be in trouble after four seasons . . . The Chargers have won 10 games for the first time since 2009 . . . The South Florida Sun-Sentinel ranked the 20 greatest plays in Dolphins history, dating to 1966, and ranked the double-lateral TD vs. the Patriots as No. 1.