The San Francisco 49ers surprised some folks on Saturday when they announced the decision to waive running back Jarryd Hayne. He had shown play-making abilities in the preseason, both as a returner and a running back. And yet, once it became clear Carlos Hyde would not play in Week 8, the team waived him to add another running back.
I want to try and wrap my head around this decision, and consider why it makes sense, as well as why it seems odd. So, I thought I'd put up various reasons that could be in play, and consider why each makes sense and is odd.
Not picking up the skills of a running back
Makes sense: The decision to add Kendall Gaskins would strongly indicate Hayne is not picking up what he needs to in order to be a capable running back. This is not to say he can't be a capable running back down the road, but replacing him with an exclusively running back option in Gaskins makes it pretty clear Hayne has not progressed at the position in the manner in which they want. If the team can get him to the practice squad, he can continue working on these skills.
Does not make sense: The team is rolling the dice that someone else does not claim him. There is some value in waiting this late in the week, but someone might love his skillset enough to make the claim, and thus make the practice squad a moot point. In the case of the 49ers this week, Mike Davis and Reggie Bush will serve as the primary two running backs. One would think Hayne could do enough to serve as a third back who is primarily an emergency option. And considering the explosive ability he did show at times in the preseason, he seems like the kind of young weapon you'd want to keep and develop.
Makes sense: If Hayne is not developing as a running back, then he is essentially just a return man. He got work as both a kick- and punt-returner in the preseason, but he has been primarily a punt returner. That makes him essentially a one-trick pony at this point in his NFL career. The team has a lot of other return options, particularly if we are looking at this from a "we can still win in 2015 perspective".
Does not make sense: This team is circling the drain, and I am not remotely convinced they can do enough to get back to nine or ten wins and a potential playoff berth. This comes more from a fan perspective of getting the young players more opportunities to see what they can do in 2016 and beyond. This team is not re-loading or re-building at this point. It's just trying to stay above water. At some point they need to pull the plug and begin a rebuilding process. Even if Hayne is a one-trick pony at this stage in his career, the potential is pretty impressive for a guy who has never previously played football.
Makes sense: He struggles at times with possession, and the team is unhappy with that. That's all I got.
Does not make sense: Again, he's shown some impressive potential. Giving him more opportunities at the bottom of the depth chart seemingly provides some value that is not worth the risk of losing it.
Hayne remains a very raw prospect. I get that. And it is possible he slips through waivers and is on the 49ers practice squad with relative ease. He has indicated that is the plan if he is not claimed elsewhere. It is possible we as fans are overreacting in large part because this team has been a train wreck for much of the season. And yet, nobody can deny the raw potential Hayne possessed.
If the team was 5-2 and legitimately a contender, I would get it. For a winning team, extra legit running back depth would be important against a tough defensive front like the St. Louis Rams. But for a team that is 2-5 and showing little in the way of signs of life, it is harder to wrap my head around. Even though Hayne is still a ways from truly understanding the running back position, his return abilities alone make it seem likely that he ends up being claimed off waivers. Fingers crossed he does not, but for now we are left to wait and see.