Early Monday morning I finished a post where I listed A.J. Jenkins as one of eight wide receivers fighting for three roster spots. About nine hours after clicking “publish,” the San Francisco 49ers sent out an email announcing they had agreed to trade Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
“We would like to thank A.J. for his efforts as a member of the 49ers and wish him all the best with the Kansas City Chiefs,” said 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. “We are pleased to add Jonathan to our team and look forward to incorporating him into our offense. Both players have been presented a great opportunity for a new beginning with their respective teams.”
Yes, Trent would like to thank A.J. for showing up to camp out of shape last season, letting his mind wander when the team was installing new plays, and becoming the first healthy first round wide receiver who didn’t stage a contract holdout to finish his rookie season with no receptions. Thank you for your efforts, A.J. You successfully avoided injury and put on your uniform correctly every day.
In reality, the Jenkins pick had become the kind of albatross that was threatening to follow Baalke throughout the rest of his career. People will still question the 2012 draft even after this trade (for reasons beyond just the Jenkins pick), but at least this trade gives Baalke a chance to salvage things.
But one thing is more important than reputation, ego or one’s draft resume: winning.
The addition of Baldwin, who’s been disappointing in his own right since the Chiefs took him with the 26th overall pick in 2011, doesn’t guarantee the 49ers will win any more games in 2013 or beyond. But he gives the team something they don’t have, an athletic receiver who can see eye-to-eye with Colin Kaepernick.
Anquan Boldin is listed at 6′ 1″, and that measurement is quite generous. Kyle Williams is 5′ 10″. Marlon Moore is 6′ 0″. Quinton Patton is 6′ 1″. Baldwin is listed at 6′ 4″, 228 lbs (he also runs a 4.5 40 and had a vertical jump of 42 inches before the 2011 draft). Besides Kassim Osgood — who as a pass catcher is a pretty good special teams player — the 49ers don’t have a receiver on the roster with that kind of size.
For an offense that struggles in the red zone, a big target like Baldwin at least provides an end zone threat to go along with Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald and the 49ers’ relatively short starting wideouts. Jenkins wasn’t even good enough to get playing time in such situations.
There’s a reason why the 49ers were able to get Baldwin for Jenkins, who throughout his short tenure in San Francisco consistently had trouble getting off the line, staying upright, doing his homework and making plays. Baldwin dropped six passes during his rookie season, and dropped an Alex Smith throw on Friday night that was very catchable. He also got into a fight with running back Thomas Jones before his rookie season, but there were reports that Jones sucker-punched Baldwin.
While Baldwin’s stats aren’t overwhelmingly great, something …
- 2011: 21 receptions, 254 yards, 1 TD
- 2012: 20 receptions, 325 yard, 1 TD
… is better than nothing, particularly when you take a look at the list of quarterbacks Baldwin played with:
- Matt Cassel
- Tyler Palko
- Kyle Orton
- Brady Quinn
Baldwin’s new quarterback doesn’t say a whole lot when reporters are around. But he seemed to be getting a little frustrated with Jenkins.
On Aug. 6, when a reporter tried to make it easy for Kaepernick to compliment Jenkins:
Since A.J. Jenkins came back from his hamstring injury he’s been quite active, he looked pretty good these last two practices. Has that been your impression of what you’ve seen from him?
“Yeah he has looked good. We expect more though. We need him to step up.”
Two days later, after the first preseason game:
What kind of words did you have for A.J. after his fumble?
“That you have to come out and make plays. He is someone that we need to be able to rely on.”
Now Kaepernick gets to work with a different young former first-rounder, a player who’s flawed but at least provides some diversity at the 49ers’ most shaky position. And even if Baldwin fails to pick up the 49ers’ offense and/or gets cut before the 2013 regular season, today’s trade provides a certain undeniable benefit: after today, the 49ers won’t have to answer any more questions about A.J. Jenkins.