Murray won the Heisman Trophy. Lawrence won a national title. Both were No. 1 overall picks, cashing in on the riches of the NFL in the process. Murray’s rookie deal was worth $35.5 million in 2019, which included a $23.6 million signing bonus. Two years later, when he was the top pick this past April, Lawrence’s deal was worth a bit more, $36.8 million over four years with a $24.1 million signing bonus. Both deals were fully guaranteed.
As the kids say, Murray and Lawrence got their bags.
But they missed out on significant paydays in college because they were born too early. Had the name, image and likeness legislation been passed while they were in school, experts say Murray and Lawrence, who face off Sunday in Jacksonville (1 p.m. ET, Fox), would have commanded top dollar.
“A first-round draft pick from a Power 5 school, let alone a QB of the caliber of Kyler and Trevor, is going to have a $4 [million] to $5 million off-the-field opportunity,” said Jim Cavale, the founder and CEO of INFLCR, a content platform for elite athletics.
Instead, they’re watching stars such as Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, who threw all of 13 passes last season as a freshman, agree to NIL deals worth as much as $1 million before the season even began, per Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
And Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who started two games as a freshman last year when Lawrence was battling COVID-19, agreed to deal with Bojangles and Dr. Pepper as part of its Fansville ad campaign.
And Quinn Ewers, the top QB prospect in the country who skipped his senior year of high school and enrolled this past August at Ohio State, reportedly signed a multi-year deal with athlete autograph company GTSM that will pay him more than $1 million along with the deals he signed with Holy Kombucha and a local automobile dealership.
Those riches would have also gone to Murray and Lawrence before their life-changing NFL contracts.
Both would’ve likely received interest from local and national brands, Cavale said, most of whom probably already did business with the quarterbacks’ respective schools. But each had their own unique characteristics that could’ve led them to deals. Think Lawrence’s hair and Murray’s size.
Lawrence: ‘Sometimes less is more’
It’s hard to definitively say how much Lawrence could have made during his three seasons at Clemson, but it’s safe to estimate he could have been the highest earner, well into seven figures.
“You have to think at least in one of the years that Trevor was at Clemson that he would have been [the highest-earning player],” said Darren Heitner, a sports, entertainment and intellectual property attorney as well as an adjunct professor of sports law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “I think, Tua [Tagovailoa] probably would have been one of the more sought-after athletes around that same time period. Kyler, absolutely. I don’t think it’s surprising that we’re talking about quarterbacks and Heisman candidate/winners who would grab a lot of attention.”
That’s not outrageous when you consider between his final collegiate game and the NFL draft, where the Jaguars took him with the first overall pick, Lawrence agreed to endorsement deals with Gatorade, Adidas, Bose and Blockfolio.
So, yeah, Lawrence would have, to use a technical term, cleaned up.
That would have obviously meant some national deals, but Lawrence also could have had his pick of opportunities with auto dealerships, bars and restaurants, and businesses around Clemson. Because he would have been in such high demand he likely would have had to hire an agent or marketing firm to handle it for him, which is what high-profile college athletes are doing now.
“The thing that’s great about college — and I think we’ve seen this with multimedia rights holders, and how they represent the schools they serve,” Cavale said. “So a Learfield IMG or JMI sports that that represents Alabama, or Kentucky, those two firms represent those two schools respectively, their job is to pay up front those schools for the rights to be able to then use their marks and all their inventory.
“And what do you see when you go to those schools? You see local brands, a lot of local brands, especially in a college-focused town like Tuscaloosa, let alone a medium-sized city like Lexington. There’s a lot of local brands, that’s the only show in town. So they’re going to make sure that they position themselves with that show.”
Even with a marketing team in place the demands could become overwhelming for a player such as Lawrence. Lawrence said that’s something he considered when asked recently about his NIL potential. He said he likes to keep things simple and felt like the added commitments may have taken too much of his time away from football and classes.
“I’m glad that I wasn’t really a part of that,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s great for people that are still in school, but I loved my experience and I wouldn’t change it. I know that that brings a lot of stress, too. Like, I know the situation I’m in, sometimes less is more. Now knowing I can go to these endorsements and make money and do whatever marketing, sometimes less is more. Sometimes you worry a little bit about guys doing too much just because at the end of the day you still have to go to school, you have to play ball, you have to do what got you there. You just have to be careful, but I’m super happy.
“I have some friends that are still in school that are loving it and it’s been great for them to make some extra money. I think it’s a good thing and I think it was the right move, but you just have to be careful.”
Murray’s two-sport appeal
Much like Lawrence, there would have been a good chance Murray would have earned somewhere in the seven figures, even as much as a few million dollars, had the NIL been in place during his time in college.
He was an elite quarterback at an elite school in Oklahoma playing at an elite, Heisman Trophy-caliber level.
That number would have multiplied had the NIL been around from the beginning of Murray’s collegiate career, when he headed to Texas A&M as one of the most coveted recruits in the country after an undefeated high school career, said Andrew Donovan, the vice president of collegiate partnerships at Altius Sports Partners.
“I’m not mad at it,” Murray said. “Obviously, I was a little early, missed the wave but I think it’s good for them, good for the kids.
“It’s definitely gonna shake some stuff up. I don’t know how they’re gonna work with it, how they’re gonna do it, but good for them.”
Murray has done quite well for himself so far in the NFL.
He has endorsement deals with Nike, Body Armor, Kretschmar Deli, Faze Clan, and has also worked with companies such as Buffalo Wild Wings and Nissan, along with unveiling his own clothing line.
Part of Murray’s appeal to companies, both local and national, would have been his overall story.
“Kyler, also a great teammate, has a great story beyond the game, being the son of a football player, he’s a transfer coming from his dad’s alma mater, Texas A&M, and going to Oklahoma, obviously playing pro baseball,” Cavale said.
That’s where Murray would have differed from Lawrence.
Murray would have been able to appeal to two different sports markets because of his success in baseball. Having been a first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 2018, Murray would have been able to cash in on baseball-related deals such as camps, Donovan said.
“Yeah, I have to think so because if you are a product or brand, you know that all of a sudden, there is a demographic of individuals that have an awareness of this athlete in a totally different sense than just as the quarterback at Oklahoma,” Donovan said. “And, so, I do think that has to be interesting to a brand because they can expand their reach.
“Baseball is a little bit different than football in sort of the camp market. I think you see more frequency in ‘lessons,’ and maybe kind of one-off summer camps. We’ve seen some baseball student-athletes get engaged in sort of like virtual lessons.”
Another potential option on the baseball side could have been partnerships with baseball brands that could have paid either money or products in return for social media publicity.
Like Lawrence could have with his hair, Murray could have also found deals because of his size, Donovan said.
“I’d leave that up to the brands that may have wanted to be creative or found a good fit based on the size of the individual, maybe like a. ‘Size doesn’t matter’ type of slogan,'” Heitner said. “I saw recently Sam’s Club decided to do deals with 10 athletes named Sam across the country, so these deals can be very quirky and brands will pick up on reasons why a particular athlete is a good fit, and, perhaps, Kyler’s size and his prowess on the field, despite his constraints physically, could be something that brands would have latched onto.”
‘I don’t think it’s going to be good’
While Murray and Lawrence are happy that athletes still in school can benefit from NIL, their coaches, both of whom came from the college ranks, don’t feel the same about college athletes getting paid.
“I don’t think it’s going to be good,” said Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was the Texas Tech head coach from 2013 to 2018. “I just think, I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds here, but when you have that type of payment of only certain players on a team and you’re trying to coach culture and build a team and build a program, it makes it tough.”
Kingsbury, who coached players such as Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, all of whom could have commanded big dollars in the NIL market, doesn’t think big deals in college will keep players around longer.
“I don’t. I don’t,” Kingsbury said. “I don’t think a lot of those guys that can come out enjoy school that much.”
Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, who was a college head coach for 17 seasons and won three national championships — two at Florida, one at Ohio State — feels the same way.
“I’m very close, obviously, still to Florida with Danny [Mullen]. I talk to him quite often. And then also [Ohio State coach] Ryan [Day] and my son-in-law [Buckeyes QB coach Corey Dennis],” Meyer said. “Wild stuff, man. Guy never played a snap and [gets] $1.5 million. I imagine getting him to go to Sociology 101 is not easy. Once again, that’s not my issue.”