It wasn’t that long ago that Jonathan Baldwin was running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and grabbing the attention of NFL Scouts with his 6-foot-4 frame and speed.
At the Combine in 2011, Baldwin ran a 4.50 40-yard dash and the Kansas City Chiefs took the former University of Pittsburgh standout with the 26th overall selection in the first round.
Three years later, however, Baldwin is still spinning his wheels in the NFL. After being traded to the 49ers last season, he quickly became a forgotten option and it seems a long shot that Baldwin will even make the team’s roster for 2014.
With Michael Crabtree, Quinton Patton, Anquan Boldin (who’s likely to be re-signed) and a rookie wideout expected to be taken high in this May’s draft, that leaves just one or two roster spots left for a wideout.
Baldwin, however, has seen the writing on the wall and made a smart move to give himself a better chance at sticking around through the entire offseason. Baldwin reportedly has reworked his deal with the 49ers that will reduce his base salary in 2014 from $1.4 million to $645,000. He could, however, earn an additional $755,000 in incentives, reports Field Yates of ESPN.
To reach those incentives, however, Baldwin would have to produce like the big-time playmaker he was supposed to be. According to Yates, he’d have to play 80 percent of offensive snaps and catch 65 or more passes for at least 800 yards. Bill Williamson, who covers the 49ers for ESPN.com, also reported that the money in Baldwin’s contract isn’t guaranteed, so if the Niners decide to cut him before the season, they’d escape any costs.
Last season, Baldwin had just three receptions in seven games.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee pointed out that the move by Baldwin to restructure his deal was a smart move, because it will allow him to work out with the team for several more months and perhaps sharpen his skills and sway some people on the team – if he can show improvement. Otherwise, it’s possible he would have been released soon.
Still, Baldwin will have to show marked improvement. With the 49ers already having three receivers they like and probably bringing in one or two from a deep draft of wideouts, the competition will be fierce.
Just three years after Baldwin impressed scouts at the Combine, his name already is being used – in a bad way – to compare players at the current combine.
A Kansas City Star story last month compared Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin physically to Baldwin. Benjamin is 6-foot-5 and had the size and speed that many college defensive backs couldn’t handle, just like Baldwin at Pitt.
But the Star story quoted draft analyst Jared Counterman of OptimumScouting.com as saying that Baldwin wasn’t believed to be “a super-hard worker” and a sloppy route runner – a trait that apparently surfaced with the 49ers, too. There are no such concerns about Benjamin.
At 24, Baldwin still has time. But he’ll need to have a great offseason to earn a job.