I’m starting a GoFundMe to keep Kyler Murray playing football.
Murray is the quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners football team, and also a recent top-10 draft pick of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s. He’s far from the first prominent two-sport athlete, but his particular situation is unprecedented: He will soon be a one-sport athlete, but for the remainder of this year he’s been given the opportunity to live out his dream to be a star in the other sport. In June, Murray and the A’s agreed to terms on a nearly $5 million contract. As part of the deal, Oakland gave him the OK to play the 2018 football season at Oklahoma — his first and last as a starter — before he hangs up his cleats for a slightly different pair of cleats.
Both the football and baseball worlds were confused by this arrangement. From a baseball perspective, it seemed strange that the A’s would take Murray so high (he went no. 9 overall; he was projected to go much lower) only to let him risk injury by starting at quarterback for a full season. From a football perspective, it seemed odd that Murray would preemptively agree to give up a sport he loves before seeing just how good he can be. Entering this fall, I was ready for the novelty of Murray’s first and final season as a big-time quarterback.
But then something happened: Murray started to play football, and it was incredible.
Kyler Murray is GOOD at this football thing pic.twitter.com/0ZYJTuRxrP— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) September 1, 2018
In three games so far this season, Murray has been named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice. ESPN has upgraded Murray to the top spot in its weekly Heisman Watch poll, above Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Murray has amassed 10 total touchdowns, eight passing and two rushing, and could have scored more had the Sooners needed it. (They’ve won their first three games by an average margin of 29 points.) He’s 49-of-73 through the air for 863 yards; he ranks sixth in the FBS with a passer rating of 199.84.
Murray had Sasquatch-sized shoes to fill at Oklahoma, since the last Sooners quarterback was Heisman Trophy winner/flag planter/crotch grabber/no. 1 NFL draft pick/college football legend Baker Mayfield. Before Murray took the field in Week 1, the questions circling him were obvious: Would his play be a poor Mayfield impersonation? Or would he find success and prove that Mayfield was simply a creation of Oklahoma’s Air Raid offense? The answer, it turns out, was neither.
The Air Raid may serve as statistical steroids for quarterbacks, but it doesn’t prevent us from recognizing the distinct skill sets of each one. Mayfield was the most efficient quarterback in the history of the Air Raid, Patrick Mahomes II was the most dynamic, and Murray is the most athletic. He’s an excellent passer — look at this hand-seeking missile, an effortlessly thrown 50-yard dime that drops into the 1-foot radius where Murray’s receiver doesn’t even have to move his arms.
This throw and catch by Kyler Murray to Hollywood Brown is ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/FbCUYysdFB— Connor (@McCartyConnor) September 15, 2018
But my goodness: the way Murray moves.
Watch the first GIF I dropped in this piece again, the one where Murray senses he is at risk of getting sacked. He literally runs a circle around a defender, sprints to the left before realizing he’s encountered the entire opposing defensive line, backtracks, reverses direction, runs another circle around the same poor defender he already ran a circle around, and bolts to the right to gain enough yardage for a first down. Murray’s ability to change direction is unreal. He’s like a sports car that somehow has the quickest 0-to-60 acceleration and the tightest turning radius.
And he’ll never be able to use the latter trait in his future as a baseball player. When will Murray ever have to change direction on the diamond? When he gets caught in a rundown? When he misjudges a fly ball and initially breaks the wrong direction? When he identifies a pitcher’s pickoff move and needs to suddenly snap back to the bag? Baseball is a game of straight lines and right angles. Murray will never get to dance around a defense. He’ll just run counterclockwise around the bases, every single time. The A’s general manager is Billy Beane, the guy who invented Moneyball. Oakland didn’t draft Murray with the no. 9 pick because of his potential for highlights. It drafted him because it hopes he’ll be slightly more productive than the people drafted 10th and 11th.
There is no guarantee that a top-10 MLB draft pick will emerge as a superstar. Of the 16 players taken in the same slot as Murray between 2000 and 2015, eight either never reached the majors or have negative career WAR. (One, notably, is NL MVP candidate Javier Báez.) Murray will spend this year plastered all over national TV, as Oklahoma is ranked no. 5 in the AP poll and expected to remain in the national championship hunt. Next year, he will probably play for the Beloit Snappers, Stockton Ports, or Midland RockHounds in the Oakland farm system, hoping to earn a call-up to the majors in a season or two or three. Overnight, Murray will go from being one of the most famous players in one sport to a life of untelevised games in small towns in another.
This is why I’m starting a GoFundMe to extend Murray’s football career. He is a unique athlete, and the qualities that make him unique shine most brightly at quarterback. He’s also unique from other quarterbacks we’ve seen. There are things Murray can do only when he’s on a football field; there are things only Murray can do on a football field.
Hopefully, I have convinced you to donate. Here is what we need.
- $4.77 million — enough to offset Murray’s initial contract with the A’s.
- A couple million extra dollars to serve as NFL draft insurance, since Murray is not yet widely considered a pro prospect at quarterback.
- A few more million dollars to account for the fact that, for as long as he plays football instead of baseball, Murray will likely have to settle for a lower salary than he’d earn in MLB. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown is the most dynamic wideout in football. He’s getting paid less this season than Francisco Cervelli, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ perfectly mediocre catcher.
- Several more million dollars to account for baseball players having significantly longer careers, on average, than football players. The average age of an NFL player in 2018 is 26.6; the youngest MLB roster, the Phillies, has an average player age of 26.9.
- About $10 million to account for the painful injuries that Murray could incur playing football, injuries that don’t occur in baseball. MLB players automatically get a lifetime health insurance plan the second they appear on an active MLB roster, and get a pension after 43 days in the big leagues. Meanwhile, NFL Hall of Famers just threatened to boycott future Hall of Fame ceremonies if they can’t secure health insurance for other Hall of Famers, a bit of labor unionizing that I would find really awesome if it didn’t come with the dystopian side effect of turning future Hall of Fame selections into referenda on whether certain players were talented enough to receive lifetime health insurance.
- For good measure, about $100 million more, to advance research into CTE and the other neurological ailments that are common among football players after years of having their brains banged around repeatedly.
As it turns out, nobody who’s given the choice to play either football or baseball professionally should ever choose to play football. Baseball is a sport in which players get to hang out with their friends in the sun and chew bubblegum, and somebody wants to pay Murray millions of dollars to play it. Football is a sport in which strong and absurdly athletic men try to destroy a quarterback’s body roughly 100 times per game, and Murray has decided to temporarily play it for free. We should be grateful and terrified that he has made this decision and hope that he survives, instead of trying to convince him to play the dangerous sport for longer.
But I’ve seen Murray play football. This GoFundMe ask is getting pricey, but it might be worth it.