SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers are one of three teams without a punt- or kick-return touchdown since the 2011 season and they lost arguably their most explosive return man to the Fijian Olympic rugby squad this week.
Jarryd Hayne, after all, led San Francisco with a 9.5-yard punt-return average last season but only had eight attempts. Bruce Ellington was the primary return man and averaged 7.2 yards on 19 returns.
Meanwhile, one of the best returners in the game, and someone familiar to 49ers coach Chip Kelly, reportedly has been on the trading block.
Eagles running back Darren Sproles has been sitting out the Eagles' voluntary practices this offseason. NFL.com reported this week that Sproles thinks he might be traded and that Philadelphia has fielded trade offers for the 11-year veteran.
The Eagles denied that report this week.
"I want Darren Sproles on this football team," new head coach Doug Pederson told reporters in the Philadelphia area. "... He's a big part of this football team, and that's where we're at."
Asked what he knows about the Eagles -- who fired Kelly on Dec. 29 -- possibly shopping Sproles, Kelly on Tuesday said, "I’ve had nobody call me from Philadelphia since December, so I don’t have any answers on that.”
The 5-6, 190-pound Sproles could help solve two problems for the 49ers.
After Carlos Hyde, the 49ers have a collection of inexperienced runners and castoffs at running back. Sproles has carried the ball 577 times since 2005 and has a 5-yard average. He's also been a prolific pass catcher with the Chargers, Saints and Eagles, averaging eight yards a reception over his career. It’s unclear who will handle the role of third-down running back for the 49ers this season.
In addition, Sproles has been the Eagles' primary punt returner over the last two seasons. His 11.7 yards per return in 2015 ranked second among players with at least 20 attempts and his two touchdowns led the NFL. He also had two touchdown returns -- including an 82 yarder against the 49ers -- in 2014.
The 49ers' last punt and kick return for a touchdown came in the same game -- a 2011 Week 1 win over the Seahawks in which Ted Ginn Jr. had both in the fourth quarter. The 49ers, Raiders and Buccaneers are the only teams without a special teams return touchdown since then.
The players handling punt returns for the 49ers this offseason are: Ellington, DeAndrew White, DeAndre Smelter, DuJuan Harris and Bryce Treggs.
Sproles' offseason home is in California, specifically Poway, which is near San Diego. And it could be argued that he'd bring an element of experience to an offense that has just three players in their 30s: receiver Jerome Simpson, 30, tackle Joe Staley, 31, and offensive lineman Erik Pears, 33.
Of course, there are also good reasons why a trade wouldn't work beginning with the fact that Sproles is heading into the final year of his contract and the 49ers likely would be wary of striking a new deal with a runner who turns 33 next month. The 49ers have parted ways with a number of skill players in their 30s in recent years, from Frank Gore to Vernon Davis to Anquan Boldin, a current free agent who has had little contact with the club thus far.
Sproles, meanwhile, seems to be an excellent fit for Pederson's west-coast offense, which, when Pederson ran Kansas City’s offense in recent years, threw plenty of passes to running backs.
And, perhaps most of all, the Eagles probably are reluctant to help the team run by their ex coach -- someone they obviously loathe -- look any better.