Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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IRISH IN THE PROS 62 PRESEASON 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE C ole Kmet was minding his own business, getting ready to open his fourth training camp with the Chicago Bears on July 25, when he got a phone call from his agent with some good news, really good news. The contract negotiations that weighed heavily on Kmet's mind for several weeks were over when the former Irish tight end was given a four-year, $50 million contract ex- tension with the Bears. The deal in- cludes $32.8 million guaranteed and a $20 million first-year payment, per ESPN. The contract puts Kmet, 24, in the top 10 for highest paid NFL tight ends at $12.5 million per year. "It's pretty cool," Kmet said of his massive payday. "Honored to be here. Honored they felt I was a guy worthy of this." Humility aside, following Kmet's breakout 2022 season, Chicago wasn't letting their hometown hero get away. Keep in mind that it was Bears general manager Ryan Pace who nabbed Kmet in the second round of the 2020 draft, not the current GM Ryan Poles, who took the job in 2022 following a fran- chise front office shakeup. That unfamiliarity with the new boss made these contract negotiations even more nerve-racking for Kmet. "I can't control [Poles'] thoughts on what he truly thinks of me," Kmet said after becoming the first draft pick of the Bears in three years to get a second contract. "He has an opinion one way or another, and you just sit there hoping." Apparently Poles thought very highly of Kmet, and understandably so. "When I'm out on the field, I can con- trol what's going on because I'm in con- trol," Kmet added. "But when you're in these negotiation talks, everything is done at that point. There wasn't a foot- ball play going on. There was nothing I could go out and do. You're just waiting and seeing." The favorite red zone target last season for Bears quarterback Justin Fields, Kmet recorded 50 catches for 544 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2022 — all team highs — while at the same time he proved himself as a reliable and sturdy run blocker. For his career, Kmet has 138 recep- tions for 1,399 yards and 9 touchdowns. In their second season together, the re- lationship between Kmet and Fields blos- somed in 2022. Six of the 7 touchdowns Kmet caught last season came from Fields after the Chicagoland native had only 2 touchdown catches in his first two seasons with the Bears. With his new deal in hand, Kmet said it's time to get to work, "and prove these guys right." INEVITABLE COMPARISON It didn't take long for the com- parisons between two legendary Notre Dame tight ends to surface within the Raiders franchise. Bulky but fluid tight ends with soft hands in the passing game and a bad attitude as run blockers … Michael Mayer, meet "The Ghost" Dave Casper. The former was a second-round draft pick (35th overall) of the Las Vegas Raiders last April. The lat- ter was a second-round pick (45th overall) of the Oakland Raiders in 1974. Casper — still considered the greatest tight end in Raiders franchise history — became both a College Foot- ball and an NFL Hall of Fame inductee. The commonalities between Mayer and Casper are uncanny. Casper was 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. Mayer lists at 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds. Addition- Kmet — who grew up in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago — posted 50 catches for 544 yards and 7 touchdowns last season. PHOTO COURTESY CHICAGO BEARS Cole Kmet Inks $50 Million Contract Extension With Bears FIGHTING IRISH HEADLINERS Brandon Aubrey (Played at Notre Dame from 2013-16), PK, Dallas Cowboys (NFL) The former Notre Dame soccer star turned professional football placekicker has put himself in the mix during this NFL training camp season to become the 2023 starter for the Dallas Cowboys. Upon his graduation from Notre Dame, the Plano, Texas, native played two seasons (2017-18) in the MLS then later joined the Bir- mingham Stallions of the USFL for two seasons (2022-23), where he won two league championships and earned All-USFL honors in 2022. Aubrey, 28, made 14 of 15 field goals and all 35 extra points last season. Chase Claypool (2016-19), WR, Chicago Bears (NFL) Following a midseason trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Bears in 2022, the former Irish star wideout is receiving high marks during training camp as he begins his second go around in the Windy City. Calling this contract season, "the biggest year of my life," the Abbotsford, British Columbia, native played seven games with the Bears last season and managed only 14 catches for 140 yards with no touchdowns. As a senior Notre Dame in 2019, Claypool, 25, recorded 66 catches for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns, and became a second-round draft pick (49th overall) by the Steelers. Kyren Williams (2019-21), RB, Los Angeles Rams (NFL) Injuries this time last season to the former Irish standout ball carrier kept the fifth-round draft pick from making much of an impact as a rookie with the Rams in 2022. But that's not tempering enthusiasm and team involvement in 2023. Rams head coach Sean McVay recently called his 2022 second-round draft pick "a bright spot" during training camp. As a junior in 2021, the St. Louis native finished his final Fighting Irish season with 1,002 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

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