Aaron Murray was one of the better quarterbacks in SEC history at Georgia. His NFL ambitions haven’t worked out. It happens, especially with fifth-round draft picks.
Besides, Murray had mostly given up on the NFL when he took a job as a college football analyst for CBS in 2017.
Considering those circumstances you might wonder why Murray, 28, would agree to play in the upstart Alliance of American Football. You’d get your answer if you saw how Murray’s eyes lit up when he was asked about leading the Atlanta Legends to a comeback victory at Arizona last weekend.
“It was fun, man,” Murray said. “It was a lot of fun. Man, I haven’t played in three years. That’s the crazy thing. It’s been a while since I’d been hit. Monday and Tuesday, the body did not feel great. It’s coming around now. I feel great.”
Murray played at Arizona after starter Matt Simms left the game with a hand injury. The Legends won their first game in four tries as Murray had 308 total yards. Now Murray is set to start for the Legends against Memphis on Sunday at Georgia State Stadium.
In another twist, Memphis will start Murray’s former UGA teammate, Zach Mettenberger, at quarterback. Mettenberger and Murray competed to be the Bulldogs QB in 2010 before UGA dismissed Mettenberger, who later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery. Murray went on to set records for the Bulldogs, while Mettenberger eventually ended up at LSU.
The two quarterbacks played a legendary game when LSU went to Sanford Stadium on Sept. 28, 2013. Mettenberger was great that day. Murray got the upper hand when he threw his fourth touchdown pass with 1:47 to play to put Georgia up for good.
That was one of Murray’s finer moments. Now Murray and Mettenberger will face off again as professionals.
“It’s Murray vs. ‘Met’ 2.0!” Murray said.
It is, but it isn’t. This game won’t be in a packed college football stadium. It will be in the kind of modest setting you’d expect for an upstart football league.
The Legends announced an attendance of 10,717 for their home opener Feb. 24. Those fans who chanted for Murray during that game as Simms struggled can see their guy play Sunday. Murray said there will be plenty of his family and friends there and, he hopes, lots of barking Bulldogs fans.
The eight-team AAF is trying to exist alongside the NFL rather than compete with it. It’s for fans (and gamblers) who can’t get enough football. It offers them a 10-game schedule from February to April and provides the NFL another pro league to scout for prospects.
Plenty of American football leagues have failed, but I’m hoping this one makes it. As a general principle, I want people to have jobs doing what they like. With sports specifically, I’m in favor of another avenue for ex-college athletes to earn salaries playing after they couldn’t do it with their schools.
Legends games don’t have the trappings of an SEC Saturday, but Murray will earn the standard pay of about $8,000. He can play for the Legends and continue with his broadcast career in the fall, which he said was part of the appeal. AAF players can get out of their three-year, non-guaranteed contracts to sign with NFL teams.
Murray said he would be open to another NFL opportunity, but only if it’s a “legit situation.” He’s already been through the grind of a fringe NFL player: lots of camps and cuts, very few practice reps, even less game time. Compare that slog to the chance for Murray to play in real games for money, in the city where he already lives, while keeping his day job.
Of course, playing for a start-up league also means accepting a certain amount of instability. The AAF reportedly had cash flow problems last month before getting $250 million from a new investor (the league said the investment wasn’t urgent).
The Legends already have seen plenty of upheaval. Ex-NFL head coach Brad Childress resigned as coach in January and was replaced by Kevin Coyle, who had never been a head coach in college or the pros. Ex-Falcons star Michael Vick resigned as offensive coordinator post two days before the season opener.
But Vick’s departure led to the first stroke of luck for Murray. To replace Vick, who once famously admitted he was “somewhat lazy” in his preparation as a player, the Legends hired former NFL assistant Ken Zampese.
Zampese was a long-time QB coach for the Bengals before serving as OC. Zampese was QB coach for the Browns last season, when rookie Baker Mayfield set an NFL rookie record for TD passes. Mayfield, like Murray, is a relatively undersized quarterback who can make plays outside of the pocket.
Here’s a chance for Murray to be tutored by a coach with a strong NFL resume.
“He just knows the position,” Murray said. “Last week I learned so much about fundamentals with my feet, my arm placement, my eyes. Stuff that I somewhat knew but not fully. I feel so much better throwing the football and I feel more confident.”
Murray is primed to lead the Legends against the Express on Sunday. It won’t be the NFL or big-time college football, but something in between. That’s a good thing for Murray and the AAF. I’m rooting for them both.
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