Jarryd Hayne, the Australian Rugby League star who wants to make his mark in the NFL, will attempt to do so with the 49ers, Hayne announced today at a press conference in Australia.
"You have to be all in -- I have all my chips on the table,” Hayne said. “ I have no backup plan."
The 27 year old is expected to sign a futures contract with the team later this week. The Seahawks and Lions also were in the running to land him. Hayne said he got a $100,000 guarantee from the 49ers, a noteworthy figure considering he’s never played American football.
Hayne worked out for several NFL teams, including the 49ers, in December. During his visit, he met with head coach Jim Tomsula, who was then the team’s defensive line coach.
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During a nine-year stint in NFL Europe, Tomsula worked extensively with players, like Hayne, who had little experience with American football. Defensive end Lawrence Okoye, who is from South London and who had played rugby but not American football, chose to join the 49ers in 2013 largely because of Tomsula's background. Hayne said Tomsula figured heavily into his decision, too.
Hayne will be listed as running back, a position of need for the 49ers who have only two with NFL experience, Kendall Hunter and Carlos Hyde, currently signed for the 2015 season. A prominent third player, Frank Gore, is scheduled to become a free agent next week.
However, Hayne’s immediate impact likely will come on special teams, both as a returner and as a coverage specialist.
The 49ers last year mainly relied on then-rookie Bruce Ellington in the return game even though Ellington had limited experience handling punts in college. The 49ers ranked 29th in punt-return average (6.5 yards) and ninth (24.5 yards) in kickoffs.
San Francisco also signed former LSU standout Trindon Holliday in December. Holliday, 28, is 5-5, 166 pounds while Ellington, who could have a bigger role at receiver in 2015, is 5-9, 197 pounds.
Hayne would offer more heft. He stands 6-2 and weighs 226 pounds. He recently ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash in a pro-day style workout for NFL scouts. That's virtually as fast as the 40-yard dash Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon -- who most believe will be the first running back taken in the May draft -- ran at the scouting combine. Gordon is 6-1, 215 pounds.
Meanwhile, two of the 49ers’ veteran coverage specialists, Kassim Osgood and Bubba Ventrone, are scheduled to be free agents. Ventrone will become an assistant special teams coach with the Patriots, sources told The Bee Monday.
Hayne last year played for the Parramatta Eels of the National Rugby League in Australia. He led the league in scoring and was co-winner of the league's player-of-the-year award. He also won that honor in 2009.
Hayne’s agent, Jack Bechta, noted last week that while Hayne had no background in American football, he was accustomed to punt-like situations, which occur throughout a rugby match. "They're used to guys coming at them on the run, used to using their peripheral vision," he said. "In terms of being a ready-made punt returner, it's very, very natural."
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.