The San Francisco 49ers traded A.J. Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for fellow wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin in a swap of former first-round picks who have struggled to meet expectations in the NFL.
Jenkins was a surprise selection at the bottom of the first round in 2012 and dropped the only pass intended for him in a regular season game as a rookie. His inconsistency continued in the first two weeks of preseason play. While leading 49ers' wide receivers in total snaps, he had only one catch; it resulted in a fumble.
"I was rejected by a team, sent to another team and then with the next team my signature years came. So it can be a real positive and that's what everybody hopes for in this situation," said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. "A.J. is a very talented player. He has never been an issue or a problem as a teammate. He competes. He works very hard and there's no reason that both these guys can't end up having a great career."
Jenkins reunites with Alex Smith in Kansas City, though the pair teamed up mostly on the scout team in San Francisco after Colin Kaepernick replaced Smith as the 49ers' starting quarterback.
"We felt like this trade was beneficial for all parties involved," Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. "A.J. is a talented individual with a skillset that we feel can add value to our football team. Jon Baldwin is a hardworking player and a professional. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward."
Baldwin joins that deep corps of wide receivers with the 49ers and gives Kaepernick a big body to pair with proficient route-runner Anquan Boldin and the two players currently projected as fellow starters -- Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore.
"Both players have been presented a great opportunity for a new beginning with their respective teams," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said.
The team's leading receiver last season, Michael Crabtree, is sidelined with a torn Achilles. Tight end Vernon Davis has worked at wide receiver.
The Chiefs were frank that Baldwin, drafted 26th overall in 2011, lacked the level of performance new coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson expected to trust with him in a regular role.
"We keep shooting the ball to him and that's the thing, and you don't know what you will get out of him," Pederson said Sunday. "If he is in a slump, and I don't think he is, I just think he needs to continue to focus and detail his work. Alex (Smith) has the utmost trust in him and is still going to throw him the football. You slowly work yourself out of, if he's down from drops or mental errors or whatever it is, you just work yourself out of it. You continue to press on. We always talk about short term memory. You have to have it in this business and move on."
Baldwin had 20 receptions for 365 yards (16.3 yards per catch) and one touchdown in 2012. He was fifth on the team in receptions in 2011 with 21-254-1. Harbaugh admitted being intrigued by Baldwin's size or strength, but wouldn't project whether he believes Baldwin will make the 53-man roster.
"To really start talking, 'what ifs' and 'if this, if that,' 'what if,' let's let the two pass the physical and be a 49er or be a Kansas City Chief. And then we can start talking about some of those things," said Harbaugh, who added that he has been familiar with Baldwin since he was recruited by Harbaugh's brother-in-law, Tom Creen, as a potential basketball player in high school.
Whether Smith can quickly learn to trust Jenkins is uncertain, but Jenkins also has experience as a kick returner at Illinois. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, he has been overmatched physically and lacked confidence to execute as an outside receiver.
Jenkins is more quick than fast, covers a lot of ground in the short half of the field and is slippery after the catch.