When the San Francisco 49ers lost, in overtime, to the New York Giants in the 2011 NFC championship game, one area of the roster that the team desperately needed to improve was the wide receiver position.
In that 20-17 loss, 49ers wide receivers were targeted just nine times, with Michael Crabtree accounting for the only reception. That catch gained three yards on a 3rd-and-5 play from the Giants' 10-yard line with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, forcing the 49ers to kick a game-tying field goal instead of having another crack at a potential go-ahead touchdown.
The 49ers were aggressive in upgrading the receiver position last offseason. Mario Manningham and Randy Moss were signed in free agency and the team used their first round pick in the 2012 NFL draft on Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who may need general manager Trent Baalke's help to get a roster spot in 2013, writes Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.
Jenkins was a complete non-factor as a rookie, receiving a jersey in only five of 16 games. In 35 offensive snaps, Jenkins was targeted with just one pass, which he dropped. With Michael Crabtree tearing his Achilles, the 49ers could use Jenkins to step up and earn not only a roster spot, but a starting role this season. If the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos was an indicator, that is unlikely to happen before the season open on Sept. 8.
In 39 snaps, Jenkins caught one of three passes thrown his way, an 11-yard gain in the second quarter that concluded with Jenkins fumbling the ball over to the Broncos. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh discussed Jenkins progress on Monday.
"I think there’s a lot of things he does well, very well," Harbaugh said. "I don’t know that I’d pick one. He makes some spectacular catches. He’s got big strong hands. Makes good catches. Is getting better with his route running. He’s improving really in everything he does. It’s just a matter of down-in down-out consistency. I think there’s a lot of, we all need to strive to be better day in and day out, play in and play out."
Could the 49ers actually pull the plug on Jenkins after one season? It is very rare for a first-round pick to be released so quickly, and it is unlikely to happen with Jenkins, but the new rookie compensation system has made it somewhat easier for teams to admit they made a mistake after one season and move on. All first-round draft picks now receive signing bonuses, which puts between 55-67 percent of the total value of their four-year contracts into the first year of the deal. In the previous collective bargaining agreement, most first-round picks received league minimum base salaries and moderately-sized roster bonuses in Year 1, with the bulk of their five- or six-year contracts coming in Year 2 via large option bonuses or salary advances. After receiving a large signing/option bonus (which ranged from $2.33 million to $17.974 million for first-round picks in 2010) in March, first-round picks from the previous draft were all but assured of a roster spot in September.
If the 49ers were to release Jenkins, they would owe him $1,727,391, the amount of the fully guaranteed base salaries from 2013 and 2014 that remains on his four-year, $6,947,529 contract. In terms of the salary cap, Jenkins' fully guaranteed base salary of $1,021,594 would accelerate onto the 49ers' 2013 cap, increasing his cap number this season from $1,578,984 to $2,600,578. The 49ers are currently $7.117 million under their adjusted cap number of $125.773 million. In 2014, Jenkins would eat up $1,746,374 in "dead" cap space, which is about $150,000 less than Jenkins would count against the 49ers' cap if he were on the roster.