First-round draft picks are a terrible thing to waste, and by most accounts wide receivers Jon Baldwin and A.J. Jenkins have been just that. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Baldwin with the 26th pick in 2011, and the 49ers selected Jenkins with the 30th pick in 2012. Neither has been anything closely resembling an impact player.
Baldwin has 41 catches in two seasons, and Jenkins didn’t have a single catch for the 49ers during his rookie season despite a shallow depth chart. Instead of simply releasing the two draft busts, the teams announced on Monday that they have swapped them via trade. The general idea is likely that a change of scenery could be good for the talented young players.
It was a good trade for both sides because they both salvaged value out of players who would be on the chopping block if not for guaranteed contracts, but beyond that it’s tough to expect either side will come out of it a winner. Odds are probably against the trade providing a positive outcome for either team, but the talent of the two players makes it a worthwhile gamble.
From the Chiefs' perspective, they also traded for a guy who played with their starting quarterback last season. Chemistry between a receiver and quarterback can be a big deal, so the Chiefs will have a head start on trying to get something out of Jenkins.
The Chiefs are obviously not as deep at wide receiver as they’d like to be, so they will have a lot of motivation to get something out of Jenkins. To add further motivation, the Chiefs made a larger financial commitment by making the trade.
Jenkins has been in the league for just one year, so his 2013 and 2014 base salaries are fully guaranteed. A quick glance at spotrac.com will show that the Chiefs will owe Jenkins $1.7 million over the next two years (the signing bonus doesn’t transfer), which is $665,881 more than they would have owed Baldwin in 2013.
Since Baldwin is entering his third season, only this year’s contract is fully guaranteed. The 49ers can get cap relief sooner if Baldwin doesn’t pan out for them this year. This might simply be the 49ers dumping Jenkins for whatever they could get, but the Chiefs may see this as something more than a swap of disappointing players.
If the Chiefs were going to dump Baldwin after this season and didn’t expect to get much out of him, it only makes sense to make a trade if they could get value. Trading a Baldwin for his equal wouldn’t really make sense since his contract is more favorable.
The value for the Chiefs is that Jenkins is a year younger than Baldwin and the financial commitment isn’t much more overall (it’s actually less in 2013). Jenkins also helps the Chiefs continue to reshape the roster and cut off the dead weight still on the roster from moves made by former general manager Scott Pioli.
The Chiefs basically dumped a player the former regime drafted for a cheap two-year reclamation project that the current regime likes better. Baldwin’s inability to catch the ball consistently has obviously been a problem that the Chiefs aren’t willing to endure any longer and have hope that Jenkins can be more sure-handed.
With a shallow depth chart in Kansas City, Jenkins could earn playing time quickly if the change of scenery does him good. Only Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster have a firm grip on their spots on the depth chart, so Jenkins could easily become a primary backup on the outside by beating out players like Devon Wylie and Junior Hemingway.
Unlike Baldwin, Jenkins hasn’t really had much of an opportunity. Baldwin has played in 26 games over the last two years, and Jenkins was only active for three during his rookie year. It’s tough to make the case that Baldwin was getting playing time that was fully merited.
Neither team can really lose with the trade, because both sides likely viewed the player they traded as a near-total loss going forward. It’s also unlikely that either team will really benefit from the trade, but at least the potential is there.
Without some potential for positive gain, the trade would have been a moot point for both teams. If both players wash out with their new teams, it still will be.