Why Was the Hayne Plane Grounded?

Updated: November 1, 2015


In a season to forget for the San Francisco 49ers, there is one stat the famous franchise can hang its hat on.

On a list of the longest punt returns made this year, the Niners are seventh out of the 32 teams in the NFL. It’s a sign of mediocrity when seventh is a measure of success. It’s even worse when a stat like that is used as a sign of life in a campaign out of breath. Scraping the barrel? Sometimes, it’s all about the spin.

But that’s what it’s come to. They’re last in the rankings for total yards made. Last in scoring. They have the fewest touchdowns and they’re second last for passing yards. That from a quarterback who’ll bank $19-million this season alone.

So there must be champagne corks popping in the Bay Area when they see that punt return stat intermingled among the myriad of numbers from luminaries like Brady, Rogers, Gronkowski, Petersen, Watt and co right? Right?

Seems not. Instead, they’ve gone searching for a scapegoat to solve the bigger problem at hand and concluded that it’s their project player who delivered that magical 37-yard punt return who is to blame. Yes, a development player with a combined career game total in single figures.

Within three weeks of that solitary moment of spark in a 40-point thumping by Arizona, the Niners put a punctuation mark in Jarryd Hayne’s NFL career. Immediately, the NFL website was on message. Name: Jarryd Hayne. Status: CUT.

It has been a strange ride. Never fully secure. Like a rollercoaster with rails of mundane straight followed by unexpected hair-raising dips and thrills. Limited opportunities in six fully-fledged NFL games and some standout performances in the pre-season. No one said it would be easy. Nothing was ever guaranteed. But surely the signs were there. Surely a redlining learning curve is a fair indication of what could lie ahead.

So what happened? Did the Niners give up? They won’t say. Had they lost patience? It seems that way. There has been no comment. Instead, a story on the team website is as cold and blunt with the fans as the franchise was with Hayne himself. They took him to St Louis. He was expected to play against the Rams. They gave him the news on the team bus on the way to practice. The NFL – the home of the butcher’s hook.

Hayne’s numbers could have been better. In those six games, he carried the ball eight times as a running back for 25 yards. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry. But punt return was always going to be a better fit. Despite his 37-yard stroll against the Cardinals, three fumbles in that role had the wolves at his door.

But context is crucial in this argument. Did the Niners bother to ask, “is Hayne the problem we need to remove in order to move forward?” Most likely not. Yes he brought locker room exposure and attention from a new audience like never before. He also brought spark and speed to a dysfunctional offence that afforded him few opportunities.

Never before has a rookie player been under such open scrutiny before. The Niners staff did their best to keep a lid on the Hayne phenomenon, but at the same time, were more than prepared to call out his deficiencies in a public forum. Confidence is hard to find at the best of times. When it’s shattered by your own, what hope has anyone got?

Teams now have the chance to go shopping for the Hayne Plane, but are they prepared to make an impulse purchase? No doubt that was part of the Niners’ thinking. Are roster changes front of mind on game-day eve? The Niners will be hoping not and by Tuesday, Hayne will find himself on San Francisco’s practice squad.

As cruel as that seems, for a career in development, it mightn’t be such a bad thing.

Why it’s Hayne paying the price for an ineffective defence, an impotent offence, a coaching staff without clarity and a season in freefall, remains left unanswered. The Niners will be ready for that debate. Sometimes, it’s all about the spin …

Photos: Instagram

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