To lead off, who cares what the public thinks about Kyler Murray’s decision. I see a lot of people questioning the decision or saying this is the better decision for him, so I’ll cover the financial side of the decision, but I just hope that Murray chooses the sport that he is most passionate about because that will likely lead to the best path for him, one he will be less likely to second guess. The word is that he’s chosen football, so hopefully that aligns with what is most important to him.
With his immense talent that he’s is athletically, I have a belief that he’d likely have enough success in either sport to set himself up financially for a long time. So throughout this article, we’re working under the premise that he would make it to the MLB if he chooses baseball and have a shot at the free agent riches that are available there. Speaking to this talent, I saw him play in person at the Big 12 Championship with that big crazy Jerry World TV too and I’ve never seen an athlete move with such fluidity, his footwork was impeccable as he ran with some of the most beautiful, agile, and explosive movement I’ve ever seen. His feet moved in a way the provoked movement patterns as similar to dancing as they were to running. His downfield arm strength, velocity of throws, accuracy, and ability to throw touch passes are all first-class as well.
Either sport is going to net him high earnings if he develops within the sport. He already signed a deal with the Athletics as the #9 pick in last June’s MLB Draft on a deal with $4.66 million guaranteed, so even through his minor league years he’ll know he’s set himself up well for life as a kid who will turn 22-years old in August.
If he enters to the NFL in the draft and signs with a team, at best he’ll be the #1 pick which was a fully guaranteed four-year, $32.7 million contract for Baker Mayfield last year. He won’t fall out of the Top 7, so he should at minimum see the four-years, $21 million that Josh Allen signed for that will still be fully guaranteed even if Pro Football Focus finds he continues to have the worst quarterback rating for starting NFL quarterbacks when throwing from a clean pocket.
When speaking about his peak potential earnings, the current biggest contract in baseball is outfielder Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract worth $25 million a year that he signed with the Miami Marlins and has since been traded to the Yankees. The highest paid player on a per year basis is Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zach Grienke on a six-year contract worth $206.5 million that comes out to about $34.4 million per year. Pitchers Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and David Price of the Boston Red Sox are tied for second at $31 million per year.
The three highest paid position players are first baseman Miguel Cabrera at $31 million per year, Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve at $30.2 million per year, then New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at $27.5 million.
If Murray develops as a baseball player into an elite pro, in about eight years or so, which puts us around 2027, he might be in a position to earn something near $35 million if he is one of the best players considering the growth rate of the market. There are currently 18 position players over $20 million and eight of them are outfielders. If he becomes a great outfielder, but not a top outfielder, then he’ll probably be closer to $25 to $30 million. He might only see that over five-years too as an older outfielder whose speed will be diminishing, so that would be $180 million.
By the time Murray’s rookie contract is over after 2023, there is no reason to think a quarterback market that is currently at $33.5 million per year for Aaron Rodgers on his four-year extension signed in 2018 might not be at $40 or $45 million per year. Considering where the quarterback market is now with eight over $24.5 million and 16 over $20 million with those quarterbacks who are closer to $20 million simply being veterans who signed the deals they’re currently on in 2015, so the market growth has been drastic and made former top deals a much lower mid-range quickly.
Murray’s second contract will likely be in the five-year variety and his high earning years might only be 8-10 years compared to Stanton’s 13 due to Murray’s reliant on his legs, but it’s reasonable to think, if extended before his rookie contract ends, Murray could see three veteran contracts like Rodgers. Baseball teams have completely shied away from the 10-year megadeals for shorter, less risky four to six year deals like football teams do due to the current MLB CBA having players hit free agency at a later age, plus, in my opinion, a decrease in the consumption of steroids that’s resulted in the age of decline being in the early- to mid-thirties, rather than us pretending Barry Bonds hitting 52 home runs a season from 36 to 39 with a suddenly slightly bigger hat size is a normal occurrence. The only reason Stanton got such a long-deal is because he was 25-years old during the season he signed his contract, rather than 30, because he came into the MLB in 2010 at the age of 20.
Looking at a market that saw Derek Carr sign a market setting deal worth $25 million in June 2017, he has since been eclipsed by five quarterbacks and the market now sits $8.5 million higher. It’s easy to imagine the market reaching a point in the next 10 to 15 years where Murray could be earning over $50 million a year. With the way the quarterback market is moving now who knows where the market could be in five years. There was a 34% increase over the last year because of the way the conclusion of a few contracts around the same time with the multiple teams opting to sign extensions as soon as possible in an attempt to beat the other organizations to decrease their own costs, but quarterbacks are coming up for new contracts every few years, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t keep spinning out of control with a cap increasing by $10 million each year and rookie contracts that aren’t properly inflating in relation to salary cap increases.
Joe Flacco signed a record contract worth $120.6 million over six-years after winning the Super Bowl MVP at the conclusion of the 2012 season for the Ravens, which is $20.1 million per year. In the six-years since then, the market has increased by $13.4 million per year.
Let’s say that Murray plays out his rookie contract without an extension, then just as a rough estimate let’s say in five years that Murray signs a deal worth $45 million per year, then plays out five-years at that total. He could see closer to $40 million or $50 million a year depending on the next CBA and market forces. Our rough estimate has Murray at $225 million, plus the $30 million or so he’ll get as a likely top three pick in my opinion, if not the #1 pick overall. By the time he hits his fifth-year option, we’re probably around $30 million in just that year fifth-year alone between the four-year contract and the veteran deal. So we’ve got him at a rough estimate of $285 million after ten seasons with at least one more contract potentially to come.
With another five years of quarterback market inflation, is it crazy to think the market might not be in some financial space we can’t even envision? Could we see $60 million a year contracts? Could $65 million be possible if the NFLPA completely strikes out on properly increasing rookie wages in accordance with cap inflation with a corresponding decrease in the length of rookie contracts to get more players into the veteran money stage of their career and off restrictive rookie contracts?
Under the current CBA, there is an excess of cap space through the value generated by teams through under valued rookie contracts that aren’t increasing in accordance with the steady, roughly 7.5% increase in the salary cap on a year over year basis through the history of the salary cap. That (again, roughly) 7.5% increase in salary cap growth is still going on today, but because of the salary cap being at almost $200 million now rather than the $34.6 million it started at in 1994 (which is now about what Aaron Rodgers makes per year), the salary cap growth will be over $10 million per year for the foreseeable future.
I’m going to be conservative and say Murray signs a deal worth $50 million per year in 2029. So that’s five-more years at $50 million, $250 million, which puts his 15-year earnings at $535 million.
This projection of conservatism is based on me putting my faith in the NFLPA and imagining that the next CBA figures out a way to curb QB growth so one player in the locker room isn’t making $50 million per year, while his running back is going to get worn out with 350 touches per season on a four-year, $1.5 million per year contract he can’t get out of, then gets discarded for the newest model from Mark Emmertt’s NCAA sweat shop that costs below market value. I’m going to imagine this as a scenario where a high performing running back drafted late is already on a contract structure similar to what I outline in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions that is in line with the projected value of rookie contract performers by draft slot, which Jason Fitzgerald put together in 2016, then inflated to future, higher salary caps using the percentage of cap associated with each pick to find that proper price to capture the percentage of cap value of each player.
To take it further, I’m hopeful that this CBA will have better mechanisms for increasing rookie contract pay through not just performance incentives, but entirely new terms based on the market values of a player’s production levels. For example, Alvin Kamara has established himself as a 1550-scrimmage yards per season running back with about an even split between rushing and receiving yards. That’s a player who has established himself as someone who is worth at least 5% of the salary cap as a player, but he’s currently playing out a contract that will be about 0.5-0.6% of the cap through the deal. Kamara should have a built in escalator based on some kind of performance based structure that acknowledges the market value worth in some manner, like the Kamara in this scenario should see his contract at least get escalated to 3% of the cap, so the team still maintains the value gained as a reward for drafting well.
In baseball, markets are stagnant for a sport that is pretty stagnant in the public square as well. Baseball is my first love, so I don’t want to talk negatively about her, but she is a bit, how should I put this…boring?
Stanton signed that $27.5 million per year in 2015, which was the biggest contract in the history of professional sports before Canelo Alvarez signed a $365 million, 11-fight deal with DAZN. Stanton’s contract comes seven years after Alex Rodriguez’s record setting contract in 2008 worth $275 million over $10 million, which is actually $2.5 million per year more than Stanton’s contract. As mentioned earlier, the top pitchers are at $34.4 million per year, while the top position player costs $31 million per year. With Rodriguez at $27.5 million 11-years ago, that’s not a huge increase over time compared to what has happened to the quarterback market. The top paid player, Grienke has a contract worth 20% more per year than A-Rod, while Miguel Cabrera makes 12% more per year than Jennifer Lopez’s boyfriend.
In August 2009, Eli Manning agreed to a six-year deal worth $97 million, which was just $16.2 million per year, $17.3 million less than Rodgers signed for this year. Manning’s per year earnings were just 48% of Rodgers.
It’s not just boredom that accounts for the slower rate of MLB player contract growth, the rapid growth of NFL contracts are a function of the rapid growth of football, which is the NFL’s accomplishment to take nothing away from baseball. Another issue is the fact that, like in football, the MLB gets too much of the player’s prime playing seasons under the parameters of rookie contracts that are far below the value that a top performing player provides. The most recent MLB CBA pushed back the age when MLB players were becoming free agents. Under this current CBA, teams are manipulating a player’s ability to become a free agent through a tool called “service time,” which defers when a player becomes a free agent. In the previous CBA, players used to become free agents around their 28-year old season, but now they’re becoming free agents after they turn 30. After seeing the big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Dodgers whiff on a few after 30 signings, teams have completely shied away for the big money deal, especially considering the league’s main big spenders had learned the lesson of the current CBA.
I’m not 100% sure how MLB Draft contracts work, but from what I understand players drafted receive a signing bonus, then play on a pretty meager minor league salary. Houston Astros super star George Springer was the #1 pick in 2011 and signed for $2,525,000. Once he made it to the major leagues in 2014 and the pro club picked up his contract, he started earning six-figures with a $450,819 salary according to Spotrac. Due to this service time issue discussed, Springer hasn’t earned his market value yet; he hasn’t gotten his chance despite heading into his 29-year old season in 2019. Rather than get his market value, he’s had to sign a one-year contract in 2017 for $3.9 million to avoid arbitration and two-years for $24 million in 2018. According to Spotrac, Springer will have made $31.9 million over his five-year MLB career including his draft signing bonus. This is about what Murray will make on the first four-years of his rookie contract, but it’s no guarantee he or Springer make it to the MLB when they’re drafted whereas once he’s drafted in the NFL, he has secured the bag.
While Springer won’t get his first veteran free market contract until his 30-year old season, Murray will be near the end of his second contract and talking to ownership about giving him a contract that, paired with his first contract will put him north of $500 million by the end of it. Adding Springer’s rookie earnings to the $180 million, six-year deal projected earlier, this puts Murray at $211.9 million in potential MLB earnings. He could of course have another deal after a six-year MLB deal, but at the age of 35 or 36? Those MLB earnings come nowhere close to his potential football earnings.
Of course we should account for inflation in baseball like we have in football, just signing bonuses alone sees Murray’s $2.135 million higher than Springer’s, but baseball money isn’t inflating at a high rate and MLB teams own player’s contract rights untill their 30. The ability for organizations to dictate player cost through the draft in a way that isn’t close to in line with the true potential peak value of players drafted might be the biggest issue in sports labor.
As I alluded to earlier, running backs are a position that’s used and abused, but about 60% of the entire NFL is in their first four seasons of their careers every year. All drafted rookie contracts are at least four-years, while undrafted free agents can be subject to restricted free agency if they don’t play enough time in any of their first three seasons. Players who aren’t drafted in the first round really only have one shot at a big money contract because at most they’ll get a four-year contract, which puts them at year nine heading into a potential third contract and only about 10% of the league is in year nine or higher. Many of those guys are kickers, punters, and quarterbacks, so only a small number of players get into this rarified air, thus anyone being signed to a third contract is going to have their risk of non-performance factored in.
Baseball players can still play longer careers than the average non-quarterback, football player, but they’re getting smaller, short-term contracts after 30 like a football player does. With Murray being a quarterback, as long as he can continually improve as a passer over his career, which will help him overcome the eventual loss of the ability to run the ball effectively, efficiently, and consistency, he will earn a big contract after he is 30. He’s a terrific passer already, Trevor Sikkema has already put out a great piece on The Draft Network in response to Murray’s announcement that details how Murray is the better passer than Haskins.
Age isn’t a concern for Murray as he’ll have an equally long earning window in both sports, so his earnings will come down to which sport pays more and, since he is a quarterback, football has the potential to pay him more money. Quarterbacks already make $2.5 million per year more than the highest paid baseball position player, although about a million less than pitchers, but quarterback wages clearly have a higher growth rate than baseball’s hitters at least.
Also, I know they’re not the same player or person, but considering how well Mayfield played this year in the NFL and seeing Murray’s skill set this season, I have a hard time imagining Murray being a better baseball player than he is a football player. He earned the Heisman in football and, despite being a top pick in baseball, his baseball stats at Oklahoma last year were very, very good, but they weren’t mind blowing like his football stats. He hit .296 with 13 doubles, 10 home runs, and 47 RBIs in 51 games. In football, he had a completion percentage of 69%, averaged 311.5 yards per game and 11.6 yards per pass attempt, threw for 42 touchdowns to seven interceptions, plus 1001 rushing yards at 7.2 per carry in a sport that still counts quarterback sacks against rushing totals with 12 touchdowns on the ground. Scouts and MLB executives say he might have the tools to be a five-tool player, but he looks like an elite quarterback right now.
The other reason why I see a lot of people knocking it is because of the dangers of football, which is fair and understandable.
Here’s the thing about concerns about CTE. Kyler Murray has been playing football his entire life. Everyone who has gone through college football knows that over 90% of people who played college football probably have some form of brain damage.
Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell can continue to pretend running your head into other people at full speed does nothing to your brain, but everyone knows what’s up. CTE doesn’t just start in the NFL either. We kind of had an idea that hitting heads with people wasn’t a good idea by the time we get to college, but we do it, we love it, and we learn from it. Would we do it again? Who knows, but Murray’s already in it, might as well get that money if you can.
Whatever Murray ends up doing, I’m excited to see it. Best of luck to him. Let’s talk as we do about these kinds of decisions, but let’s understand that Murray is going to make the decision that best serves him. If in his heart he decides he’s a football player, then he’s probably best suited to be a football player. If he decides he’s a baseball player, then vice versa.
The good news is, whichever avenue he does, this once in a generation type of athlete has a peak potential is likely to net him contracts that will be worth tens of millions of dollars per year. That said, it’s clear from this analysis that shows a $323 difference in potential earnings that Murray stands to make more money in the NFL.
Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.