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Have we seen the last of Kyle Hamilton?

By Jamison Cook | November 02
Have we seen the last of Kyle Hamilton?
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton celebrates an interception against Purdue - Photo Credit: Michael Conroy, Associated Press

Notre Dame’s star safety may never play another snap for the Irish, and that’s ok

Kyle Hamilton missed last week’s contest against North Carolina with a pinched fat pad in his knee, and head coach Brian Kelly confirmed Hamilton would also miss the upcoming Navy game as he continues to recover from the same injury. Kelly made this news official during his Monday press conference as he said that Hamilton would receive his second treatment on the knee on Monday, Nov. 1st.

Kelly did say that Hamilton would be re-evaluated next week to see if he would be available for the Virginia game, but I am not so sure if this will be the case. And while it pains me greatly to say this, I actually wouldn’t be very surprised if Hamilton never puts on an Irish uniform again.

Hamilton checked in at No. 4 in Todd McShay’s recent 2022 NFL Draft Big Board, and even with his injury he is almost a lock to be a Top 10 pick. And let me make one thing clear, there is a huge difference in money between the first few picks and the bottom of the first round, let alone rounds in day two of the draft. In the 2021 NFL Draft, top pick Trevor Lawrence signed a $36.9 million contract, with $24.2 million of that money coming as a signing bonus. Pick No. 4 – where Hamilton is currently ranked – was Kyle Pitts, and the Florida tight end signed a $32.9 million contract with a $21.3 million signing bonus. That is life-changing money, no doubt about it. If you’re smart with it, that type of contract can last you a lifetime.

Conversely, last year’s 32nd pick – Tampa Bay’s Joe Tryon – signed an $11.2 million contract, with a signing bonus of $5.5 million. That is a massive difference, and if Hamilton were to return and further injure himself, he could fall to a pick that makes him significantly less money. If a player falls farther and out of the first two rounds, their first contract will be small enough that they essentially must play well in order to earn the type of money a first rounder gets.

Notre Dame fans will remember well the last time this type of injury cost a player millions of dollars. In 2016, Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in the last game of his career: the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Smith was helped off the field and later carted to the locker room, an indication of the severity of the injury. The injury caused Smith, who had been considered one of the top defensive talents in the upcoming draft, to drop significantly as a few teams were scared off by the nature of the injury. Smith missed the entirety of his first NFL season after the Dallas Cowboys selected him with the 34th overall pick. He didn’t reach his full NFL potential until 2019, when he earned a Pro Bowl appearance with 142 tackles, 2.5 sacks, nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.

But since the 2019 campaign, after which he signed a five-year, $64 million dollar deal ($35.5 million guaranteed), Smith has struggled mightily on the field. He has been such a liability, in fact, that he has been cut twice during this 2021 season: first by the Cowboys and then by the Packers.

It is unclear how much of a role the lingering effects of his injury have played in Smith’s decline, but his career remains a big “what if?”. Smith was lucky in that he played well enough to earn a substantial second contract in 2019. But what if he had never recovered from his knee injury? He most likely would have never made anywhere near the amount of money he was set up for prior to that fateful Fiesta Bowl.

Hamilton now finds himself in a similar situation. Further damage to his knee or a second unrelated injury could derail what looks like a very promising NFL career. And it could be life-changing in terms of money. Why risk it?

While many Notre Dame fans won’t want to hear it, Hamilton has nothing left to prove in a Notre Dame uniform. He recorded a pick six in his very first play, led the team in tackles with 63 in 2020, and leads the team with three interceptions this year. He has not just shown flashes of greatness but has consistently played like a talent that is ready to excel at the next level.

Maybe Hamilton has a burning desire to finish the season for the Irish, and if so, then that’s fantastic. The defense is noticeably better when he is on the field. His presence gives us the best chance to win in any game. But if he doesn’t want to risk his future, then so be it. He has earned the right to make that decision. And if he does choose to stay on the sidelines, not a single Notre Dame fan should be angry with him. He has so much to lose. Just ask Jaylon Smith.