Kansas City, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are hoping a change of scenery will give two disappointing first-round picks an opportunity to realize their potential.
The Chiefs traded wide receiver Jon Baldwin to the 49ers on Monday for fellow wideout A.J. Jenkins. It’s the second significant trade between the teams this year after the Chiefs sent two draft picks to San Francisco in the offseason to acquire quarterback Alex Smith.
“We are pleased to add Jonathan to our team and look forward to incorporating him into our offense,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “Both players have been presented a great opportunity for a new beginning with their respective teams.”
Baldwin was the 26th overall choice of the Chiefs in 2011, but he’s had a tumultuous career right from the start. Baldwin broke his thumb his rookie season when he got into a fight with a teammate, and then struggled to adapt to three head coaches in his first three seasons.
He’s also had trouble with dropped passes throughout training camp under new coach Andy Reid, including one when he was wide open in last Friday night’s preseason loss to San Francisco.
That drop alone apparently was not enough to dissuade the 49ers from making the deal.
“There’s no reason that both of these guys can’t end up having a great career,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Both of these young men have that opportunity, and they definitely have the ability and license to get it done.”
Jenkins was the 30th overall pick of the 49ers last year, but may have had a more perplexing rookie season than Baldwin. He appeared in three games but did not make a catch, even though he was healthy throughout his team’s NFC championship season.
“We felt like this trade was beneficial for all parties involved,” said Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, who was hired in January to replace the fired Scott Pioli — the GM who drafted Baldwin.
Dorsey and Reid clearly weren’t enamored of the big wide receiver after breaking down video of him upon their arrival. One of their major acquisitions in free agency was Donnie Avery, a veteran wide receiver who was expected to compete with Baldwin for the job opposite Dwayne Bowe.
Baldwin didn’t do much to change the Chiefs’ opinion of him this offseason, either.
Even though they’re desperate to give Smith some downfield options, Baldwin never seized upon the opportunity. He routinely dropped balls in practice, struggled to get open in preseason games and never showed signs of being the kind of playmaker the Chiefs need on the outside.
“You don’t know what you will get out of him,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said before Sunday’s practice. “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.”
Otherwise, your team eventually will move on, as Kansas City did Monday.
The 49ers are hopeful that Baldwin can flourish without having to deal with the pressure that came with being a primary target in Kansas City. Even though Michael Crabtree is out with a torn Achilles tendon, San Francisco still has veteran Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham when healthy, and tight end Vernon Davis to carry most of the load in its passing game.
Still, all that help wasn’t enough to help Jenkins break out. The speedy wide receiver had another rough preseason showing against the Chiefs last Friday night, and many were beginning to question whether the former Illinois star would even make the team.
He was targeted twice in the game, but failed to catch either pass. Jenkins had one reception in the 49ers’ preseason opener against Denver, but also lost a fumble.
“I have to support the organization and my coach, but I think it’s a great stepping stone for him because he gets to start over and start new,” Davis said Monday. “To me, he still has a lot of potential. His career’s not over. He’s just starting somewhere else.”
Williams said the opportunity to reunite with Smith could help things click for Jenkins, who was often criticized for his work ethic and off-the-field habits in San Francisco.
“Honestly, I’m happy for him,” Williams said. “It’s kind of a breath of fresh air. He gets to go over there, get in a new system, get over there with Alex, and Alex will bring him up to speed. I couldn’t be happier for him, because I know it’s going to be a great opportunity for him.”