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Edmonds: Murray makes smart choice by pursuing football

| Wednesday, February 13, 2019

In the year since Kyler Murray took over the reins from Baker Mayfield in Norman, Oklahoma, there’s one thing in the back of everyone’s mind: What’s next?

For most athletes, reaching the professional level of their respective sport fulfills their wildest dreams. Yet, for Murray, that’s not enough. The 21-year-old from Bedford, Texas, finds himself in a uniquely fortunate situation with the opportunity to become the first ever athlete to be drafted in the first round of both the NFL and MLB draft, having already solidified the latter feat after being selected by the Oakland A’s with the ninth pick of last year’s MLB draft.

However, all indicators point towards Murray spurning the $4.66 million promised by the A’s for a shot at glory on the gridiron, after announcing on Monday he is “firmly and fully committing [his] life and time to becoming an NFL quarterback,” just four days before he was scheduled to report to spring training with Oakland.

Obviously, this decision invokes strong opinions from both sides, as many debate each sport’s career longevity, popularity and financial benefits. Less than a month ago Sports Editor Joe Everett and Managing Editor Toby Hoonhout weighed in on the topic, with the latter arguing in support of Murray leaving football behind while the former focused his argument on Murray being worthy of a first-round NFL draft pick.

With spring training quickly approaching and the remaining $3.16 million he’s set to receive on March 1 by the A’s should he have chosen to play baseball, Murray’s decision is looking more and more like a smart choice. The difference in implications of being a first-round pick in each league are too great. While in the NFL, a first-round selection nearly guarantees you a starting spot on most team’s rosters, the complex dynamics of baseball make your success far less certain. So, let’s check out the numbers.

For college position players like Murray taken in the first round of the MLB draft from 1996 to 2011, only 16.9 percent of them made the major leagues. Nearly a quarter of those 122 players didn’t even stay in the League for three or more years, a frightening statistic for anyone who hopes to make a career out of it. Meanwhile in football, 99.7 percent of first-round draft picks were on an NFL roster their rookie year and an impressively high 71 percent remained on a roster through at least their fifth season. This is not to detract from Murray’s ability as a baseball player. The left fielder has clearly proven himself and could possibly go on to have a historic career on the diamond. But the numbers don’t lie and historically, he’s much less likely to make the MLB — much less enjoy a long career considering his draft stock — than he would choosing football.

How can that be, though? Everyone knows the wear and tear of football is a constant threat to players careers, while sports like baseball can support players well into their 30s. Take Alex Rodriguez, who finally stepped off the plate at 40. There are considerable concerns over the physicality of football, especially in light of the prevalence of CTE among former members of the League. However, the title of being a first-round draft pick has proven to hold far greater weight in football than baseball, where players taken in the later rounds can build successful careers. Just two years ago, pitcher Brandon Kintzler, playing for the Minnesota Twins at the time, was named to the American League All-Star team as a 40th-round pick.

There are still several question marks looming about the direction of Murray’s career, especially considering his size — clocking in just under 5-foot-10 — in a league dominated by 6-foot-plus quarterbacks. And there’s always the possibility that Murray could return to baseball, in which case the A’s would reserve the rights to him.

With the chance to make history and have his legacy cemented as an elite athlete, Murray‘s choice to pursue football should pay off long term.

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