‘I could be a millionaire’

Ronnie Stanley has made peace with his decision to return for his senior year, although the offensive tackle knows that mindset came with a price tag.

When Ronnie Stanley watched the NFL Draft last spring it confirmed that leaving Notre Dame early could have made financial sense.

Even when the NFL’s advisory committee for underclassmen informed Stanley before the Pinstripe Bowl that he’d likely be a second rounder, the 6-foot-5½, 315-pound athlete believed he’d go in the first. As Stanley tracked how that first round unfolded it backed up his position that bolting college after his junior season could have been a smart move.

“I could be a millionaire right now,” Stanley said. “College is a big difference from being a millionaire. If you didn’t really see the whole situation it would be a crazy idea (to stay).”

As Stanley jumps into his final training camp as arguably Notre Dame’s top pro prospect, the left tackle reminds himself of the football reasons he returned. Coming back gives Stanley a shot at graduation, but working under Harry Hiestand for another year could also be the difference between starting in the NFL and just surviving.

“Just knowing that I have the potential to thrive, not just thinking it, knowing it,” Stanley said. “It’s definitely going to benefit me as a person.”

Returning could make financial sense if Stanley approaches his mock draft projections for next spring. One analyst at the Bleacher Report has Stanley going No. 1 overall. The Irish haven’t had a Top 10 pick since Bryant Young in 1994.

The financial ramifications of playing his way up the first round are severe. If Stanley had come out last year there’s a good chance he’d have gone No. 24 to the Cardinals or No. 29 to the Lions. Both took offensive linemen late in the first round.

According to estimates by Forbes, the four-year total rookie contract value for the No. 24 pick last year will be $8.1 million. For the No. 28 pick it drops to $7.7.

Compare that to the four-year estimated total rookie contract of last year’s No. 10 pick at $12.3 million. For the No. 5 pick –Brandon Scherff, the top offensive lineman selected ­– it jumps to $18.8 million.

No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston will cash out at an estimated $22.4 million over four years.

“After I watched the draft, I thought I would go where I thought I would have gone,” Stanley said. “I thought I would have been up there. How many tackles were taken, it just confirmed everything that I thought and I really didn’t need to look at anything else.”

Now Stanley is done with mock drafts. They scrambled his brain last January while weighing the decision to stay or go. Now that he knows he’s gone after this season, he sees little point in tracking his stock. He could be intentionally working to boost it instead.

“It’s not going to make me a better player,” he said. “There’s nothing there for me to get or to take.”

Instead, Stanley will throw himself into his final season of college football. He wants to turn himself into a professional while still on the amateur level. He believes he’s found his voice in the locker room. Others are finally listening.

“I guess I found more conviction in myself,” Stanley said. “I’ve just been, I guess you could say, soft. I’d say there’s more willingness to listen now and there’s more conviction from me.”

Stanley sees a change within the roster too as the Music City Bowl lingers. Now that Notre Dame knows the offensive line can lead the program, the roster doesn’t want to get away from that blueprint.

“It’s just getting a taste of what we could be and knowing that letting up that hunger for a second, you can lose it all,” he said. “Just knowing that we can never let it up. Just carrying that mentality has been the biggest change.”

Stanley will be around this fall to see if that change sticks.

It’s an expensive view.

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