Here’s why Jeff Samardzija picked MLB over NFL

Almost 10 years since making his major league debut, it’s clear Jeff Samardzija chose the right sport.

During his college career at Notre Dame, Jeff Samardzija was a legitimate two-sport star. As a right-handed pitcher he had the second-best ERA in the Big East as a freshman. As a wide receiver for the Fighting Irish, Samardzija was a two-time All-American and a two-time finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.

Samardzija was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft, and he probably would have been a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. But he chose baseball full-time in January of 2007, and signed a five-year contract worth a reported $10 million with the Cubs.

Samardzija went through the minors pretty quickly, making his major league debut out of the Cubs’ bullpen on July 25, 2008. Approaching 10 years since then, Samardzija reflected on his choice to pursue baseball over football.

“Marcedes Lewis,” Samardzija said of the Jacksonville Jaguars tight end. “[Brian] Cushing — I played against him. … Clay Matthews … Donte Whitner — I loved playing against him at Ohio State. Arian Foster was another guy. He’s done.

“They’re all done. Or if they’re still there, they’re on their way out. And I just signed my new deal. … Knock on wood, my body’s not telling me, ‘Hey, you can’t do this.’

Samardzija is entering the third year of a five-year, $90 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. He is coming off a down year in 2017, but Samardzija has been one of the most durable starters in baseball with five straight 200-inning seasons where he has made at least 32 starts. Right now, with three more years at $19.8 million left on his contract, Samardzija’s career salary is $63.3 million.

According to data presented by Jon Morosi, 95 players (12 quarterbacks) have appeared in each of the last 11 NFL seasons. Samardzija would put that number at 96 if he were still in the league as a theoretical member of the 2007 draft class, assuming no seasons lost to significant injury. By comparison in MLB, with rosters roughly half the size, 92 players have appeared in each of the last 11 seasons.

Apart from the physical aspect of each sport, with the positions he plays or played in mind, the finances of each sport further say Samardzija made the right choice. MLB has fully guaranteed contracts, apart from options and such that are common, while the NFL doesn’t and players have to get paid while they can during a short average career.

At 33 years old, Samardzija would be done or close to done as an NFL wide receiver. But he’s got some good years left as a starting pitcher, and even if he suffers a major injury he’ll get all the money he’s due to make over the next three years.