Georgia’s Aaron Murray thinks about what might’ve been under NIL

ATHENS – Aaron Murray saw Georgia quarterback JT Daniels at the David Pollack Foundation Tournament on June 28 at the Georgia Club and offered some free advice.

“I told him he him better go get some deals from some restaurants because he needs to take care of his boys,” said Murray, the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback from 2010-13. “He’s like, ‘I already have.’”

Georgia fans will recall that Murray had a routine while he was playing for the Bulldogs. He took the offensive linemen to Ben & Jerry’s for ice cream every week. If they happened to keep him upright without a sack on a particular week during the season, then they might go out for steak or seafood.

Always, Murray picked up the tab.

That would’ve been considerably less of a financial burden on Murray in college had he been able to take advantage of his name, image and likeness the way Daniels and college football players can in 2021. As expected, on July 1 the NCAA waived its long-standing rule preventing collegiate athletes from making money off their name.

Murray actually got a taste of NIL his senior season. He tore his ACL against Kentucky in the next-to-last game of the 2013 regular season. That meant that he’d miss the season finale against Georgia Tech and the Bulldogs’ appearance in the Gator Bowl.

But it also meant Murray had a chance to make a little cash in the interim. And he made a bunch, actually.

Entering into a marketing agreement with Dan Everett of Everett Sports Marketing (now just ESM), numerous memorabilia-signing events were set up around Atlanta and the Southeast. That included an appearance at a mall in Jacksonville while the Bulldogs were preparing to play Nebraska in the bowl game there a few days later.

ESM also set up a couple of camps for Murray. At $35 an autograph and a $100 or so per camp participant, Murray grossed well over $100,000 in the four months preceding the 2014 NFL draft.

“Yeah, drinks were on me after that,” Murray quipped.

Said Everett, president of the still-growing agency: “We signed Aaron Murray that year, and we signed (South Carolina quarterback) Connor Shaw in that class, and that’s really what put us on the map as a marketing firm.”

Had NIL rights been around during Murray’s collegiate career, the four-year starter and all-time UGA passing record-holder surely would’ve banked many more thousands of dollars.

Now a college football analyst for CBS Sports and an ESPNU Sirius XM radio show host, that thought crossed Murray’s mind.

“I’m sitting on the sidelines and daydreaming about the amount of money I could have made,” Murray said with a laugh. “It would’ve been up there; it would’ve been sweet.”

Murray’s relationship with Everett has at least paved the way for Daniels, and perhaps other UGA quarterbacks of the future. Daniels, a junior from Irvine, Calif., and the incumbent starter for what’s anticipated to be a top 5-ranked Georgia football team, recently inked an NIL-representation deal with ESM.

Daniels is one of only two college football players that ESM signed. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell is the other.

Everett said that, for now, they wanted to limit their NIL roster to just those two players because they expect them to be Heisman Trophy hopefuls and high-profile leaders of championship-contending teams.

“These guys are in a different position,” Everett said. “The strategy here will be choosing brands they have a strong affinity for.”

Depending on how long they remain in college – both Daniels and Howell are juniors – Everett estimates their earnings could reach into the millions.

Though he missed out on it himself, Murray said he’s thrilled that today’s collegiate athletes are getting this window of opportunity.

Since he was a college athlete himself, Murray has been an outspoken proponent of players being able to benefit off their own names. He saw two Georgia teammates lose eligibility because of the NCAA’s rules regarding amateurism.

Wide receiver A.J. Green was suspended for the first four games in 2010 for selling his 2009 Independence Bowl letterman’s jacket online for $1,000. Likewise, running back Todd Gurley was suspended for four games by the NCAA in 2014 for signing merchandise for some sports memorabilia dealers for $3,000.

“I saw both those guys get popped,” Murray said. “Imagine how different those years would have gone if we had those guys.”

Georgia went 6-7 in 2010, losing four of the first five games, and 10-3 in 2014. The Bulldogs were 3-1 while Gurley was sidelined, losing to Florida 38-20 in Jacksonville.

As for the current landscape, Murray said “it’s a little crazy right now, a little nuts,” as both companies and players are jumping at opportunities. He expects that deals like the south Florida gym that promised $6,000 for every Miami football player will soon disappear.

“I think all of that is going to die away,” Murray said. “Everybody’s trying to jump on it right now because it’s hot, but I think the fad will fade, and next year it will be mostly quarterbacks and running backs and the big-time skill-position guys.”

Murray said he initially had some concerns about only those star players truly benefiting from the new legislation and creating tension in the locker room. He still wonders whether key contributors focusing on money-making opportunities rather than practice and their playbooks might be a distraction.

Ultimately, though, he said it will be up to coaches and the players to police themselves in that regard.

“I’m sure the coaches are preaching to these kids that it’s not going to be fair for everyone,” Murray said. “But, look, these kids aren’t stupid. They watch the NFL. Who do you see on commercials? You see quarterbacks, receivers, running backs. You don’t see offensive linemen doing commercials. You rarely see defensive linemen besides Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt. It’s Tom Brady, it’s Aaron Rodgers, it’s Patrick Mahomes, it’s guys like that making all the deals.

“They’ve seen enough of the NFL to know that quarterbacks are about to get money.”

Murray said he actually thinks more about Jake Fromm than he does himself when it comes to what might’ve been under NIL.

Fromm was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs from 2017-19 but decided to turn pro after his junior season.

“Jake would’ve made a ton of money,” Murray said. “He had such a good reputation and Georgia fans loved him. It would be interesting to see what his decision would’ve been about coming back. Maybe he would’ve said, ‘I’m gonna come back for my senior year and up my draft stock a little bit and also make some money.’”

Like Murray, Fromm lasted until the fifth round of the draft. Fromm remains on the roster of the Buffalo Bills as a third-string quarterback.

“At the end of the day, this NIL thing is going to affect those guys like that, guys that are mid-round grades, anywhere from a third-round grade to a seventh-round grade,” Murray said. “If you’re an underclassman now, you might rethink things. Jake’s signing bonus was, like, 300K. You can’t tell me Jake couldn’t have made six figures in the offseason as a three-year starting quarterback at Georgia. He also might’ve helped his draft stock and perhaps gotten a bigger signing bonus.

“I think that’s where this is great for the universities and for those kids who aren’t necessarily sure-fire first- or second-round picks.”

Meanwhile, Murray said there’s no reason a player such as defensive lineman Jordan Davis or offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer can’t build a brand for themselves and capitalize off NIL.

“These guys can see that the quarterback is getting deals and say, ‘Well, if I want some deals, I’ve got to ball out. I’ve got to go make some plays,’” Murray said. “If you want recognition, then you better be a run-stuffer or get to the quarterback or whatever you do. Then you’ll get some deals. Same with offensive linemen. Go make some pancakes. You might not get the same amount of deals, but if you work hard and make a name for yourself on the field, there will be deals out there for them.”