Thirteen years ago, Jeff Samardzija had a decision to make. Would he test his talents as a wide receiver or tight end in the NFL, or pursue his other love, baseball?
The ‘Shark’ was slated to be a late first-round pick in the NFL, with his former teammate Tom Zibokowski comparing his game to that of Plaxico Burress or Keyshawn Johnson meaning he would’ve translated into an effective Pro Bowl level receiver who could have success in the NFL.
But Cubs GM Jim Hendry got to him first, and in the fifth round, the Cubs drafted Samardzija in the 2006 draft. Shortly after his senior season at Notre Dame, he signed a five-year $10 million-dollar deal. A nice payday for a player heading straight to the minor leagues.
Coming off an 8-2 season with 62 strikeouts for the Fighting Irish, while also grabbing 13 touchdowns on the gridiron, Samardzija rode his hot hand from South Bend Indiana to the long bus rides in A-Ball and finally to the big leagues in 2008.
Samardzija is still pitching in the MLB with the San Francisco Giants after stints with the Cubs, Athletics, and White Sox.
His story comes into focus again as the new ‘Samardzija Debate’ is taking place in Oklahoma, as Heisman trophy winner Kyler Murray had to ask himself that same question, baseball or football?
After two years with the Sooners on the diamond, Murray posted a career .261 batting average with 10 home runs and a career .466 slugging percentage. Ironically, being drafted ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics awarded him a $4.66 million dollar contract.
And on the football field, Murray totaled 42 touchdowns and 4,361 passing yards leading Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff.
While Murray can taste the fortune at his fingertips of being a high-profile quarterback in the NFL, he needs to instead follow in Jeff Samardzija’s footsteps.
Murray should’ve chosen a baseball career, as the risks associated with the NFL in terms of career length, physical, mental and even financial risks are not worth a potential high-profile cup of coffee in the NFL. Hopefully, Murray will realize his mistake before it is too late.
While quarterbacks have the longest careers in the NFL, an average quarterback isn’t going to last very long if they cannot win a game early in their career. The average length of an NFL career is from 3-6 years, and as an average pitcher, Jeff Samardzija has lasted a decade and counting. There is a much shorter leash and higher expectations in the NFL for top draft picks, and Murray has to be ready for the spotlight and harsh criticism after his first pre-season game for whatever team drafts him.
Just ask the Minnesota Vikings and Christian Ponder. Ponder was the 12th overall pick in 2011, and by 2014, he was already replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, who subsequently had one of the more freakish knee injuries that derailed his career in recent memory. After just four seasons in the NFL, Ponder was done. While retirement at 26 years-old sounds glamorous to all of us, in the NFL, that is an absolute disaster of a career.
Just like that his hopes and dreams were dashed, and the same fate could face Murray.
Samardzija on the other hand, entering his 10th year pitching in the MLB, is a career sub .500 pitcher and posts a 12 WAR (wins above replacement). While there were high expectations for him out of Notre Dame, the track in the MLB from the minors to the majors allows a player to hone their craft and build themselves into the steady MLB player or even the all-star they can become. That is exactly what Samardzija did.
The NFL on the other hand thrusts their newest stars onto the biggest stage from the get-go, and average simply doesn’t cut it. While trips across the heart of the country from each minor league stadium may not sound glamorous to Murray, it would allow him to develop into the player the A’s and the MLB envision him becoming vs having a brief stint in the high-pressured and ‘win-now’ mentality that is the NFL.
Aches and Pains
It does not take a rocket scientist to know the health risks associated with playing in the NFL. The latest surrounding concussions and gruesome on-field injuries have dominated the football conversation over the last couple of seasons. While Tommy John surgeries can scare the most dominant pitcher, the surgeries have gotten so precise, pitchers return better and stronger than ever.
And while surgeries to correct football related injuries are highly advanced as well, the life-long damages that the nature of the contact sport can leave a player with, both for their career and personal life, can be devastating.
Kyler Murray truly needs to take this into account, and I am sure this is something Jeff Samardzija thought long and hard about when making his decision.
The toll football can take on one’s body physically, and the trauma of concussions can be so life-altering, it begs the question of whether or not the career was even worth it?
Samardzija has been able to sustain a successful and fairly healthy career where one hit in the NFL on a slant up the middle, may have ended his career in just one snap.
The likelihood of success and health in the MLB is much higher based on these factors and that is something that cannot be taken for granted.
But the biggest difference and the reason why you’re all reading to the end of this article is, of course, the money.
Cash Is King
Scott Miller for Bleacher Report wrote an article in 2017 titled Jeff Samardzija Could’ve Been An NFL Star, But MLB Gave Him $120 Million Dollars Minus The Pain.
I could not have written a better title as that is exactly spot on. Over the course of his career, Samardzija has amassed over $120 million dollars for being average. And when I keep bringing up his career as average, it is not to belittle his career, but to point out the stark difference of the one and done potential of the NFL at quarterback when you’re not a star right away vs a sustainable carrer being a reliable and crafty pitcher.
And the biggest caveat about the MLB is that all the money is GUARANTEED. No matter if you’re injured or smashing Gatorade jugs with a bat, the entirety of an MLB contract will be your bank account. The NFL on the other hand is not guaranteed.
Gone are the days of a Sam Bradford $78 million-dollar ($50 million guaranteed) deal right out of college, and in-style is the rookie wage scale, with Josh Rosen of the Cardinals getting around $17 million dollars guaranteed as last year’s 10th overall pick.
These rookie deals last four to five years, and if a player like Rosen fizzles out by 2021, that could be his last payday in the NFL and he may earn short of what he hoped for in non-guaranteed money if he is cut before the end of his contract.
No. 10 overall pick QB Josh Rosen has signed his rookie deal with the #Cardinals. The contract will pay him $17.84 million over four years with an $11M signing bonus and a standard fifth-year option for 2022. #NFLDraft #NFL #UCLA #Bruins
— Deb Carson (@DebCarson) May 11, 2018
The financial risk in the NFL cannot be understated. It is criminal that a player like Jordan Howard on the Bears is still in his rookie deal making $800,000 in relation to the toll he has taken in his career so far and in comparison to what top running backs are earning in the NFL. But that is the way the league is structured.
The future Malibu Beach House, Yacht and Rolls Royce are affordable for Jeff Samardzija, but maybe only one out of those three may be affordable for Kyler Murray, if he’s out of the NFL after his rookie deal.
While most of us may think that this hypothetical scenario is ridiculous to even bring up, there is merit to the argument when it comes to career earnings across each sport.
And this may seem to still be on the mind of Murray, who before declaring for the NFL Draft, asked the A’s to up his salary offer from $4.66 million to $15 million to get him to switch back to baseball. Even as he likely stays the course with his plans for the NFL, there’s no doubt he sees the true money to be earned right off that bat, no pun intended, in the MLB.
Kyler Murray is risking a tremendous amount by choosing the NFL over the MLB, and for his sake, I hope he is right.