When the 49ers and Chiefs swapped disappointing, first-round receivers before this past season, it was a roll of the dice for both teams.
A.J. Jenkins had flopped in San Francisco – where he never caught a regular-season pass – and Kansas City was down on Jonathan Baldwin, who made a few big plays for the Chiefs but often disappeared as well.
But, it was a chance for both to get a fresh start.
Now, after a full season, it’s Baldwin who now appears to be a bigger bust than Jenkins.
Baldwin, a big (6-foot-4, 230-pounder) with good speed, became an afterthought in San Francisco, even when the 49ers were missing Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and rookie Quinton Patton, all out with injuries. Baldwin played in just seven games and had only three catches on nine throws his way for 28 yards. It was a steep decline from his so-so production of the previous two seasons, when he caught 20 balls in 2012 and 21 his rookie season of 2011.
Jenkins, meanwhile, had just one catch for the Chiefs through the first 10 games, but was much better in November and December with two three-reception games. For the season he finished with eight catches in 17 targets for 130 yards and a 16.3-yard average.
Now as the 49ers ponder offseason moves to re-sculpt their roster for 2014, Baldwin appears in jeopardy of not being around for a second year in the Bay Area.
Though the 49ers need a deep-threat receiver to balance out the talents of Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Patton, they could also benefit from slicing off Baldwin’s salary to help with the salary cap.
Baldwin’s not alone, of course. Other players – including starting cornerback Carlos Rogers, still a strong contributor – might be cut loose because of salary-cap pressure. But the decision on Baldwin seems easy. His presence on the roster reportedly would count $1.4 million against the cap. That’s not a big number but, considering his ineffectiveness, one that’s way out of line with production.
Baldwin remains a mystery. He had unmistakable first-round talent, and the Chiefs thought he could be a big-play, big-bodied wideout who could create matchup problems for opposing secondaries. Yet the former University of Pittsburgh star, who was the 26th overall pick of the 2011 draft, had trouble holding on to throws and running precise routes.
At the time of the Jenkins-Baldwin trade, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com wrote that he was mystified by Baldwin’s NFL performance.
“When I went to #Chiefs camp last year, Jonathan Baldwin looked like the best player on the field,” Rapoport tweeted. “Never translated to games. Will it in SF?”
It doesn’t appear so. As one tweeter noted when the trade was made, the trade of unwanted receivers was “like trading carrots for broccoli at school lunch.”
In hindsight, neither vegetable was very tasty.