The announcement marks a sudden end to San Francisco’s experiment with the Australian rugby league All-Star, who provided a spark of excitement on and off the field prior to the start of the season.
Hayne was projected to primarily handle punt return duties after a productive preseason in both the return and running game for San Francisco. Hayne rushed for 175 yards on 25 carries in games that don’t count, while electrifying the league with 163 yards on 10 punt returns.
But Hayne’s opportunity to contribute was limited at the start of the regular season, as he saw just eight total rushing attempts for 25 yards while fielding eight punts for 76 yards before being relegated to a bench role.
Hayne had opened the season as the 49ers return man before a trio of fumbles saw the NFL newcomer fall out of favor with the staff. He was replaced by RB Reggie Bush at punt returns and WR Bruce Ellington on kickoffs. Hayne was a healthy inactive against the Seattle Seahawks last week.
Hayne’s inexperience with the physical and mental nuances of being an NFL running back may have prompted the 49ers to go with Gaskins instead. The 6-foot-1, 238-pound Gaskins may provide pass blocking, which the oft-sacked QB Colin Kaepernick will benefit from.
The 49ers might hope Hayne clears waivers to sign him to their practice squad, though it is highly unlikely he will go unclaimed. Last week, head coach Pete Carroll gushed about Hayne’s skill set to the Bay Area media, showing that other teams have the Australian on their radar.
Gaskins — who will wear No. 30 for the 49ers — was undrafted out of the University of Richmond. He was originally signed to the 49ers practice squad in September 2014. He was cut this September, but resigned immediately. Gaskins saw 21 rushes for 55 yards in the preseason.
Gaskins now looks to supplement a thin running back committee in the absence of Carlos Hyde, after a foot injury ruled him out for Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. It remains to be seen if Hyde will be able to return to action any time soon.
Bush should see the majority of time in the 49ers backfield, with rookie Mike Davis looking to earn more playing time in Hyde’s absence as well. Bush, Davis and Gaskins are now the only healthy running backs available for San Francisco. Fullback Bruce Miller may be pressed into a more prominent role.