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Kyler Murray is calling his shot

January 17, 2019

Every now and then, the tables are reversed, the script is flipped, and an athlete has leverage on the system.

We see it only rarely because the system is designed to win by default. Star athletes are guaranteed one major choice which college they’ll attend. After that, a decade can pass before stars are positioned for another major lifestyle decision with free agency.

What happens between those mile markers is typically out of a player’s control. He has no say in which team drafts him, and no say if he’s traded away. He’s conditioned to cash his checks and keep the system moving.

But every once in a while, a player takes command of his pro career from the outset. Which brings us to Kyler Murray, who currently is showing the Oakland A’s that he’s in charge of his destiny and they’re spectators like the rest of us.

The Heisman Trophy-winner and No. 9 pick in last year’s MLB draft has thrown his name in the NFL draft, where he could be a first-rounder. Oakland already has paid him a $4.66 million signing bonus that he must return if he forsakes baseball. But first-round quarterbacks can rake in much more on their rookie contract and signing bonuses, with the added benefit of endorsement opportunities that are nonexistent for minor-league outfielders.

According to published reports, Murray sought $15 million from Oakland to keep him out of the NFL draft. News that he was waffling on his fidelity to the A’s made an SB Nation team blogger ballistic, leading her to the unemployment line after posting shameful tweets about Murray’s future. His decision to enter the NFL draft has many observers worked up.

Some question the wisdom of pursuing a sport fraught with danger to life and limb. Others counter that he should follow his heart ... and the significantly larger payday he’d receive upfront. Baseball fans are upset. Football fans are rejoicing.

And I’m loving every second.

It doesn’t matter to me which sport Murray plays. I just enjoy watching folks expend so much energy and emotion over a 21-year-old’s choice while that young man takes advantage of his unique position against the machine.

John Elway did it 36 years ago when the Baltimore Colts made him the No. 1 pick after he told them he wouldn’t sign there. Eli Manning did it 15 years ago when the San Diego Chargers selected him first overall, ignoring his warning that he wouldn’t play for them. There’s a painful image of Manning and his parents grimacing through smiles as the quarterback posed with a jersey.

Surely other players weren’t thrilled about the franchise that selected him. But power moves upset traditionalists, who believe athletes should shut up, be thankful and go where they’re told. And that’s what happens 99 percent of the time.

But like those two quarterbacks before him, Murray is in position to exert force over his situation. As a minor-league outfielder with the Yankees, Elway had baseball as a fallback. As a member of QB royalty, Manning could’ve sat out a season with no repercussions.

Murray has options and isn’t afraid to explore them. That’s something we usually celebrate in young people, but, you know, athletes.

As for the A’s “taking a chance” on him, they knew it was risky when his signing was contingent on being allowed to play another season of college football. Oakland probably liked its odds, figuring that Murray’s NFL prospects were dim at 5-9 and 180 pounds.

Who knew the league would fall in love with spread offenses and RPOs that might accommodate a short quarterback? Who knew he’d out-Baker Baker Mayfield.

While outsiders debate the merits of playing baseball or football, Murray might be wrestling with a different question, whether to follow his heart or follow the money. (In sports and in life, I’ve heard arguments for both, usually for one after a person picks the other). Or, maybe he loves football more and always considered baseball as a lucrative back-up plan.

“A lot of it comes down to what’s in your heart, what’s your passion, what you can be excited to do for this next chapter of your life,” former two-sport star Drew Henson told ESPN last week.

“Do you like watching film more than you like hitting in the cage? Are you willing to give two seasons to staying in small towns and hotels and grinding it out and struggling and playing in front of 500 people when guys you dominated in college are playing on ‘Monday Night Football’?”

It’s easy to say what you would do in Murray’s shoes, because you’re not choosing in real life. Murray isn’t making a hypothetical decision; he should choose whichever route he prefers for whatever reasons make sense to him. I hope he’ll be happy and everything works out.

I’m just glad to see an athlete exercise his options, for a change, instead of letting the system call all the shots.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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