Hard for 49ers to be sorry to see Hamilton go

See you later, Derrick Hamilton. We hardly knew ye. No, we really mean that. We hardly knew you at all. In his 2+ years with the team, Hamilton was one of the most invisible San Francisco 49ers in recent memory, and not just because he only made it onto the field for a few irrelevant minutes of the two games he played in the two worthless seasons he was employed by the franchise.

Nobody really knew Hamilton, who was released by the 49ers on Thursday with an injury settlement, an event that was sure to happen at some point this month as sure as the sun is going to come up tomorrow.

As writers who covered the team could tell you, Hamilton was a king of empty answers and had nothing to say during interviews in his early months and first training camp with the team. So people stopped asking questions until there was a reason to talk to the young receiver.

The thing is, that reason never really came, until some brief shining moments during the spring of 2005, when Hamilton's long frame and slashing speed caught the eye of the new sheriff in town, Mike Nolan and Co., and Hamilton was given a legitimate opportunity to be the No. 3 receiver on a team significantly void of quality wideouts.

It made one think at the time that, yes, the 49ers might get something at receiver after all from that 2004 draft in which GM Terry Donahue burned two of his four picks in the opening three rounds on wide receivers, since at the time it already was becoming more than just a possibility that Rashaun Woods was going to be a first-round wash and the team was going to get nothing out of him, more less what you'd hope for from a precious No. 1 pick.

But Hamilton, the team's third-rounder in 2004, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a May 15th organized team activity last year. That's a serious injury, and a serious blow to Hamilton ever amounting to anything with the 49ers, since he showed absolutely nothing but perhaps future promise during his rookie season with the team, where he got on the field for fewer plays than digits you have on your hands and feet.

Hamilton missed the 2005 season with his injury, and since then the 49ers have made some serious upgrades at wide receiver, bringing in free agents Antonio Bryant and Bryan Gilmore, drafting Wisconsin product Brandon Williams in the third round, and also spending the No. 6 overall pick of the draft on Vernon Davis and getting a potential sixth-round steal in Delanie Walker, both young tight ends who will cut significantly into the number of passes San Francisco wide receivers will see this season.

Still, Hamilton had a chance to make the team, maybe even a legitimate chance if he could prove he's better than Gilmore, Williams or Marcus Maxwell this summer. And the Nolan regime gave Hamilton every chance to do that in 2006 by cautiously holding him out of workouts this spring, giving his knee a full year to heal and making sure he was as healthy as could be when training camp practices began July 28.

Hamilton rewarded the 49ers for their caution with a true clown act, participating in a charity basketball game the day after San Francisco's spring organized team activities concluded - remember, the practices he was held out of because of his knee - and not just playing, but also showing off his dunking prowess, which has been known to put a little stress on your knees.

Hamilton did it in public. And as such, the word was sure to leak back to the 49ers, not to mention cynical reporters.

It was a clueless move, to be sure, but not necessarily out of line with what some suspected of Hamilton's brainpower. When you're a third-round draft pick who has done zero in the NFL and are coming off a significant knee injury, and you just missed practice the day before because of your knee, it's probably a good idea to wait before dunking in public. If you're thick enough to consider doing it at all.

But so the heck what? Hamilton didn't re-injure the knee playing basketball this summer, in public or otherwise. If he came to training camp and - finally unleashed from restrictions - began showing with regularity some of those brief flashes that came oh so sparingly earlier in his career, then all would be forgotten, or at least shoved to the side of the memory bank. Hamilton would have a chance to stick at receiver, and perhaps even contribute, just like everybody else.

But during the very first summer session of practice in helmets and shorts, Hamilton suffered a left hamstring injury. It didn't necessarily seem serious at first, and that perception was reinforced a few days later when Hamilton was noticed strolling off the field smiling and laughing with teammates. But it was serious enough for Nolan to rule Hamilton out indefinitely after the 49ers got into pads a few days later.

That was the end of Hamilton's career with the 49ers, right there. Before many more days passed, you didn't have to be Einstein to realize Hamilton was going to be thrown overboard the minute he passed a physical.

But that's how gone Hamilton actually was. The 49ers couldn't even wait until he passed that physical. They're paying him to leave, rather than keep him around and keep alive the prospect that they might be paying his full salary again in 2006 while Hamilton has another full season to practice his dunking while vacationing on the team's injured reserve list.

Nolan had a classic response Thursday when - after announcing that "We placed Derrick Hamilton on waivers today. I waived him injured. He is no longer on our squad" - the coach was asked what his thoughts were on Hamilton not meeting his potential with the 49ers.

Nolan may not have realized it, but he summed up Hamilton's time as a 49er as if he had been bunking with Hamilton since the day he arrived as a rookie.

"When I first saw him, I did think he had talent and he did some good things," Nolan said. "All of a sudden, he popped his hamstring and I never saw him since. I didn't really get the opportunity to know him all that well. He just showed flashes. It's unfortunate. Anytime your first-day (draft) picks aren't on the squad, that's a disappointment and it's just sorry that it's that way."

Sorry is right. And we can't think of a better word to sum up Hamilton's career with the 49ers, which ended without the wasted third-rounder ever catching a pass for the team.

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