Kyler Murray’s NFL Chess Game: What’s His Next Move?

Kyler Murray built his brand by leveraging his potential as a two-sport athlete, but now he must produce in the NFL for real.

The Red Carpet was rolled out for Kyler Murray on draft night. The 5-foot-10, groundbreaking QB was drafted No. 1 overall by the Arizona Cardinals despite his height, weight, race, historical precedent and the possibility of an MLB career always lurking in the shadows.

Arizona pushed the bag to the middle of the dice game, believing that they will roll trip sixes with Murray at the helm.  

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Murray defied every odd, negotiated his leverage to perfection and everything fell into place, including the abrupt firing of Steve Wilks and the hiring of admirer Kliff Kingsbury as head coach. Referring to his college recruitment, when Texas Tech made him an offer, Murray reflected on “finally being able to play for Coach Kingsbury” and said, “It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time.”

The 21-year-old gunslinger will have more pressure on him than he ever had trying to win the starting QB job at his Texas high school as a freshman or replacing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma.  

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Full count, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded…Yeah Murray is for all that smoke.

It’s undeniable that he’s special, the only athlete in history to be drafted in the first 10 picks of the MLB and NFL Draft. Murray’s crushing quarterback stereotypes and setting new standards. He’s a marquee name and hasn’t played a lick of professional sports yet.

The unknown is what makes Murray such a captivating figure. There’s no prototype to judge him against. There’s a real mystique surrounding him. The NFL community — all with different agendas — are invested in his success and failure, which makes it fitting that Murray wore a pink three-piece suit — inspired, he said, by “The Great Gatsby” movie of 2013.

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We’ve seen the hype and the magnificence and the accomplishments, now we get to see who Murray really is. The NFL Draft combine was supposed to be a grand party where the world got to see his workouts. Instead, he played the background and let everyone enjoy the festivities. Very Gatsby-like.  

Murray’s potential impact on the sports landscape goes beyond the gridiron. He finessed the game and played a meticulous game of chess with the Oakland A’s, who gave him a $4.6 million signing bonus and then allowed him to return to Oklahoma before fully committing to baseball.

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That was MLB’s worst  mistake and Murray’s best move. Oakland misread how deep and passionate his love for football was. Emotions aside, he simply did the math. As the NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Murray stands to make over $30 million in guaranteed money on his first contract.

After he blew everybody away, won the Heisman and then draft experts were projecting him as a first-rounder, the MLB dream was done. Even with the additional $14 million that Oakland offered Murray in January to leave football, the MLB deal didn’t equal the guaranteed bag that he’ll get from Arizona.

On top of that, it’s obvious that while he digs baseball, he’s addicted to the rush and immediate starpower of playing quarterback.  His brand is already established. He’s gotten everything he wished for.

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Now he has to meet the challenges on the field.

Will he be able to withstand the punishment ? Will his size be an inhibitor to his NFL success? Can he equal his collegiate success on the NFL level? Will he leave to go play baseball if he struggles?

There’s no more intriguing figure in pro football right now than Murray. We have to keep in mind that he’s playing on a God awful team right now. He might not be able to duplicate the success of a Patrick Mahomes.

Kansas City was already loaded with weapons.  Murray is the face of a new culture and the weight of the world is on his shoulders.

There’s a line of folks waiting to take shots at him on the field, in the media and in the stands. The baseball world is hoping he fails. Fans of  “undersized” two-sport athletes want him to win. 

Everything up to this point has been an introduction. The journey to building his true legacy is about to begin.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.