Getting Baldwin in a trade for Jenkins is a real win for Baalke

Here is my Monday column on the A.J. Jenkins-Jonathan Baldwin trade.

The 49ers traded A.J. Jenkins to the Chiefs for Jonathan Baldwin Monday morning.

Hallelujah for the 49ers. Heaven help the Chiefs.

Why on earth would Kansas City trade anything for Jenkins? Why would they want him in the first place? Just this past Friday, they saw firsthand how bad he really is. Jenkins played 38 snaps and caught no passes against the Chiefs.

Jenkins probably wasn’t going to make the 49ers’ roster. Jim Harbaugh stresses that the 49ers are a meritocracy and the best players make the team. Jenkins was not one of the 49ers’ 53-best players. Of the 90 players in training camp, he was one of the worst.

But enough about Jenkins. He’s the Chiefs’ problem, now.

From the 49ers’ perspective, this is a brilliant trade. Give general manager Trent Baalke tremendous credit. This is the best move he’s made in two years.

Baalke was in a slump. Here are some examples:

The Jenkins pick was one of the worst first-round picks in 49ers’ history. Baalke’s entire 2012 draft was bad. His 2013 draft was OK but he didn’t draft a cornerback until the seventh round, forcing him to trade for Eric Wright.

Baalke’s trade for Anquan Boldin was pretty good. The Ravens were virtually giving Boldin away because they couldn’t afford his contract and he turns 33 years old in October. The 49ers gave the Ravens’ a sixth-round pick and agreed to pay Boldin’s entire $6 million salary for this season. We’ll see if he can justify that expensive contract.

Baalke’s trade for Colt McCoy was horrendous. Baalke gave up a draft pick for a backup quarterback with serious arm-strength limitations. McCoy makes Alex Smith look like Ron Jaworski, the Polish Rifle. Scott Tolzien has outperformed McCoy all training camp. McCoy might not make the 49ers’ roster.

But Baalke’s trade for Baldwin was a grand slam, the ultimate Splash Hit.

First of all, Baalke gave up nothing for him, unless you consider Jenkins something.

Second, Baldwin is a good receiver, in spite of what you’ve heard. He didn’t carve out a starting role his two seasons in Kansas City and people were down on him. But that doesn’t mean he won’t become a good player in San Francisco where they may understand his talents better.

He’s young (24), he’s big (6-4, 230), he’s a big-play guy, he makes contested catches and he’s a deep threat. He’s exactly what the 49ers wanted in Jenkins and more.

The 49ers were hoping Jenkins would become a big-play guy and a deep threat even though he was an underneath possession receiver at the University of Illinois, averaging 14.6 yards per catch in his college career. In 49ers’ practices, he was an underneath possession receiver who didn’t like to go over the middle and did not make contested catches downfield and couldn’t beat press coverage, meaning he was not an NFL receiver.

Baldwin averaged 18.3 yards per catch at the University of Pittsburgh, and he entered the draft after his junior season. The Chiefs drafted him with the 26th pick in 2011, and last season Baldwin averaged 16.3 yards per catch on 20 catches for one of the worst offenses in the NFL. That’s impressive. Compare that to Jenkins, who caught zero passes on one of the best offenses last season. (Again, the mind reels when trying to figure out why the Chiefs made this trade, but let’s keep our focus on Baldwin and the Niners).

Baldwin’s main flaw is he drops too many passes, and he did drop one Friday night against the 49ers. But last season, he dropped only one and he was targeted 40 times according to Pro Football Focus. So, maybe his hands aren’t a major issue.

Baldwin’s contract expires after the 2014 season season – that’s a major issue. He’ll have to work his tail off to get a second NFL contract, which works in the 49ers’ favor.

It took guts for Baalke to admit to himself and the world Jenkins wasn’t going to work out for the 49ers. Most general managers do not publicly indict themselves and get rid of their first-round pick after just one season. Doing so makes the general manager look bad. No general manager wants to make himself look bad.

Give Baalke credit. He made himself look good by taking the risk of looking bad.

It took brains to identify Baldwin as a diamond in the rough. He’s the most talented receiver the 49ers have acquired since they drafted Michael Crabtree in 2009.

Just a brilliant trade on so many levels, infinitely better than cutting Jenkins and getting nothing for him. Give Baalke credit.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com

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