Mark down today as they day two things happened. One, the 49ers kicked the nation of Australia in the gonads by making it clear Jarryd Hayne is not in their future plans. And two, I came out from the veil of 80-odd third-person, unbiased (ish), journalistic articles to tell you why Hayne should tell the 49ers to stick it and move on (debatable which is the bigger news).
Hayne rejected again
The 49ers announced this morning (Sydney time) that they have signed running back DuJuan Harris from the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. Harris is another in a long line of off the street players who have bounced around between practice squads and free agency for five years and done nothing.
They cut Travaris Cadet who hardly took a snap in his short (although long for the 49ers) running back career (seven rushes for 16 yards across five starts). It is the ninth running back for the 49ers this season alone.
It was a kick in the guts for Jarryd Hayne supporters who were convinced, and I was leading the charge on this, that the 49ers were saving Hayne until the last two games as to keep his practice squad eligibility.
It seems now, that they are simply tagging Hayne along so they can keep their commitment of giving Hayne a practice squad position for the season and have another body to bang against in game practice.
Writing was on the wall
There were some hints this might happen in recent weeks. The language around Hayne became more and more bearish as the season went on. McGaughey let slip last week that Hayne has not had specific practice around punt returns or running back, despite Bruce Ellington stinking up that return position for weeks.
He plays anything on scout team, I am sure he has been at safety at some point, it’s just part of it when you are on the practice squad, you are all over the place.
McGaughey seemed to put Ellington on final notice two weeks ago when he said:
If Bruce was standing here right next to me, I’d say the same thing. You got to take care of the ball. Everyone got a job to do, do your job.
The next day head coach Jim Tomsula came out and contradicted McGaughey completely, saying:
I hope he didn’t say that, I would not want him to have said that. I’m sure he didn’t say it like that.
Well, Jim guess what? He did, as he should have, as Ellington, a second-year player with lifetime experience, averaged a terrible 5.5 yards per punt return and had dropped three returns in three games.
It made perfect sense, unlike most of what Tomsula says in his press conferences.
Who has Hayne pissed off?
The first inclination is to target special teams coach Thomas McGaughey as the reason Hayne has fallen from third on the running back depth charts, and top of the punt return charts, to now ninth and nowhere respectively.
Reading between the lines, though, I am not convinced it is McGaughey. If there was any positive talk to come out of 49ers camp, it usually came from the mouth of McGaughey. Remember McGaughey was the one who said this about Hayne mid-season:
Who knows? This year or next year he might be leading the league in punt returns. He has that kind of ability.
He was also the one who put Ellington on notice.
I can’t see it being the front office as Hayne brings with him everything owner Jed York would love. Record jersey sales, international publicity and a whole new fan base.
In reality, it seems the coachiest coach in the league Jim Tomsula just cannot take all that comes with Jarryd Hayne starting in his football team. He comes with too much baggage. The type of baggage Tomsula is the most uncomfortable with.
In press conferences, Tomsula looks oily, uncomfortable and sweats more than a Panda bear in the tropics. He diverts attention on difficult questions with answers like:
Talking about, what’s that, Martin Luther King wasn’t it? Don’t look at the top of the stairwell, just take the next step. Fall in the mud looking at the moon, you know what I mean? You’ve got to do this. Right now, I’ve got a walk-thru to get to and we’ve got to do really good at that. That’s just how I, that’s who I am.
That was an answer to a standard question, from a regular 49ers beat writer, in a scheduled press conference. It is actually one of his more coherent answers.
Imagine how tight the butt cheeks must be when an Australian journalist asks one of their ridiculous questions on Jarryd Hayne.
In fact we don’t have to imagine, just watch press conferences from pre-season. Hayne led the team in return and rushing yards and you could see what the Australian media questions did to the sweat levels of Tomsula.
Perhaps Tomsula doesn’t know how to counter stupid with stupid?
Hayne’s unfortunate choice
After Hayne announced his defection from Rugby League to the NFL, there were reportedly three teams interested in picking up Hayne for the pre-season exhibition period. The Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and the 49ers.
The 49ers were the only ones to guarantee a small contract for Hayne, and it was later revealed, owner Jed York also assured Hayne a spot on the practice squad no matter what. Combine that with the signing of Tomsula, a coach from the Euro leagues who dealt with converts constantly, and it was the logical choice.
It made sense, but he did it all wrong.
Hayne was supposed to play a few snaps each pre-season game, fumble and look hopeless for a while, and drop into the practice squad of the 49ers for coaching.
Instead, Hayne led the 49ers in rushing and return yards and was top 5 across the NFL for the preseason. He simply did too well for the 49ers not to bring him into the main squad, else they would lose him to another team.
His success at running back was the biggest spanner in the works, as it gave him the versatility which all special teamers need to keep a spot in the main squad.
Failure by success
Once the 49ers season started going pear shaped, and the inadequacies of the coaching staff were becoming apparent, Hayne, the coaching he needed to get up to speed, and the unwanted spotlight he brought to a failing team became a liability.
There wasn’t the headspace to, you know, do their job and coach Hayne up to improve. They had their jobs to conserve and conserve they have. The 49ers are officially the most conservative (and boring according to the US writers) team in the league.
If only they had a playmaker they could use with a minimal salary cap hit right? Back to the streets for another failure they go.
Hayne was cut at the first sign of a mistake, publicly for mishandling three returns, but I suspect privately because of Hayne’s inexperience at pass protection as a running back.
Ellington has made much worse handling errors, made fewer yards, can’t beat a man and hardly gets a snap as a wide receiver, yet McGaughey said this about Ellington this morning:
He’s doing a good job, we just need to see certain things a little bit better … just gotta have a little more anticipation, gotta be a little more aggressive hitting the hole at full speed.
Oh. You mean like this?
I’m not even touching on Hayne’s returns in pre-season that showed all those exact attributes.
Where to now for Hayne?
Jarryd Hayne and the 49ers relationship is over (or, at least, should be if he gets the right advice).
If the 49ers want him back next season and Jim Tomsula remains as head coach as has been the rumored this week, Hayne should tell him to take his pasta, spin around twice and choke on it.
Hayne thankfully laid down enough “tape” in the pre-season to be picked up at the very least on another practice squad.
Many question why Hayne wasn’t picked up off waivers when he was originally cut by the 49ers, but the answer to me is quite simple.
No team wanted a rookie with no playbook knowledge to come into their starting lineup mid-season. If the rules allowed Hayne to move to a practice squad (they don’t, you can only go from waivers to starting 53), Hayne would not have lasted a day.
Now that the season is ending, that gives any team that are even just a little interested in Hayne a training camp and pre-season to train, coach and try him out.
There is no question, Hayne will find a team in the off-season, after that it will be up to him to prove himself all over again.
Untapped potential on defense
Hayne’s greatest benefit is still on punt and kick returns. Hayne has demonstrated running back ability, but he still needs work on pass protection which is something that will take an off-season to improve on.
Special teams remain Hayne’s best position for an immediate start, and not just as a returner.
Remember Hayne had two shots in the special teams coverage unit in pre-season and made a big play both times. He was the first down to pressure the returner on the first play and made the tackle on the returner (beating a double team) for minimal gain on the second.
He hasn’t been thought of there since, despite coming from a game where you make as many open field tackles in one game as most special team players do in a season.
The 49ers simply do not have the imagination to use Hayne’s skill set. If only the words from Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carrol were coming from Santa Clara, not Seattle:
We thought he could really be a highlighted player. We had a lot of thoughts about how we were going to use him, I thought it was an exciting prospect to get him in here, We tried to. We talked to him about visiting and all that and so it’s really cool to see that he’s playing and contributing and is a factor in the game. He’s done some really good stuff.
Hayne’s punt return stats better than more than 19 other teams
On returns, a quick look at the statistics as of round 14 show several teams who will be looking to strengthen their special teams and punt returning squads.
As a reference, Jarryd Hayne averaged 9.5 yards per return in the regular season with a long of 37 yards.
As of the end of Round 14, excluding the 49ers, there are 19 other teams with punt return averages lower than Hayne’s. 12 of those teams average at least 2 yards per return lower.
If you have your blood pressure pills handy, you can see the full rundown in table form over on the ESPN website.
Ironically, the 49ers average now has dropped to 6.6 yards per return since Hayne was cut, 25th in the NFL.
Hayne’s bright future but time is short
With that all said, there is no doubt Jarryd Hayne has a future as an NFL player if he is patient. Countering that is his age. Next season Hayne will be 28, around the age most experts will tell you an NFL player will start dropping off in skill and speed.
Next season will be Hayne’s best chance to show his skills before father time tries to go helmet to helmet on his speed and reflexes. His next decision could be even bigger than the one that took him to the 49ers.
Now the question poses itself, could Hayne move before season’s end?
It looks like the fun is just beginning, just without the 49ers.
Which after a 4-10 season. Seems entirely appropriate.