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Rugby star Jarryd Hayne picks 49ers, not Lions

Detroit News staff and wires

Jarryd Hayne, the 2014 player of the year in Australia's National Rugby League, is taking a nearly $700,000 pay cut to chase his NFL dream.

The 27-year-old, who has never played organized American football, announced that he'd agreed to sign a $100,000 futures contract with the San Francisco 49ers to try out as a running back. That means his deal won't count against the salary cap or the team's 53-man roster limit this year.

Hayne visited the Lions in December and he reportedly also considered also signing with the Chargers.

"We take a look at a lot of different people all the time," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after Hayne's visit. "It's a constant sort of exploration for us. We're always trying to look to find ways to improve, and we're looking at every option that's out there available to us."

The Australian retired from rugby in October to pursue the NFL — a decision that the Daily Telegraph called a "bombshell." Prior to his departure he was making roughly $783,000 (U.S. dollars) — according to the newspaper.

"This is a huge huge risk," Hayne said in a televised press conference in Sydney. "I'm taking a massive leap of faith and for me, I believe it's in the right direction, not only as an athlete but also as a person."

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Hayne held a Pro Day in December at the University of San Diego. In front of a handful of NFL scouts, he ran a 4.53 second 40-yard dash.

Five rookie running backs ran faster than that at the NFL's combine last month. Hayne's time in the 20-yard shuttle wouldn't have placed in the top 15.

Hayne said he spoke with a number of teams and settled on the 49ers after talking with new coach Jim Tomsula, who worked for nine years in NFL Europe.

"He was probably the one coach that knew the transition better than anyone," Hayne said.

Hayne made his NRL debut in 2006. In 176 games for the Parramatta Eels, the fullback scored 103 tries and was twice awarded the Dally M Medal, given annually to the league's best player. When he left rugby, the Daily Telegraph called him a "marketing and merchandise phenomenon" and the NRL's "biggest drawcard."

Hayne isn't the first rugby player to try to switch to the NFL. In 2013, Carlin Isles signed a futures contract with the Lions. He later returned to rugby.

Hayne said he was both excited and nervous to continue his training in the U.S. When asked what he knows about the San Francisco area, he said "nothing," before showcasing some basketball knowledge.

"Steph Curry," he said. "He's a good shooter."