The Kansas City Chiefs’ trade former first-round pick, WR Jonathan Baldwin to the San Francisco 49ers for WR A.J. Jenkins, was as much about QB Alex Smith as it was Baldwin’s failures.
While most will simply chalk the move up as the Chiefs unloading a chronic underachiever, I think the trade was a carefully thought-out and rather shrewd move by GM John Dorsey.
Dorsey has no ties to Jonathan Baldwin. The former Pittsburgh WR was drafted by Dorsey’s predecessor, Scott Pioli.
The famous story from Baldwin’s draft involves the Atlanta Falcons, WR Julio Jones and New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick.
Pioli is extremely close with Falcons GM, Thomas Dimitroff, as both worked together in New England. When Dimitroff was considering moving up to select Jones, he reached out to Pioli and Belichick for advice. Pioli told Dimitroff to go for it, while Belichick suggest Dimitroff hold on to his draft picks and select Baldwin later in the first round. Dimitroff ended up making the trade to acquire Jones and Pioli ended up selecting Baldwin. I’ve often wondered if Pioli was aware of Dimitroff’s conversation with Belichick and if his former mentor’s opinion of Baldwin in any way contributed to his drafting the WR.
Two years later, Baldwin is looking like a complete bust and Pioli is working in television instead of football.
Which brings us back to Dorsey. Pioli drafted Baldwin because he was trying to put then starting Chiefs QB Matt Cassel in the best position to succeed. Pioli traded a second-round pick to the Patriots to acquire Cassel and so the GM had hitched his wagon to Cassel’s career.
John Dorsey has done something similar, with Alex Smith.
Dorsey gave up even more for Smith than Pioli did for Cassel. Smith comes with more pedigree than Cassel but he also comes with a history of poor play. Cassel’s arrival in KC was after only one successful season filling in for Tom Brady. Smith’s past is more complicated but his success in 2011 and half of 2012 under 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh convinced Dorsey that he could win with Smith.
After a wildly successful Chiefs debut in a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints, Smith sputtered against his former team in KC’s second preseason contest. Baldwin started that game on the outside, opposite of Dwayne Bowe. Smith targeted Baldwin three times and the WR caught zero passes.
To be fair, two of the passes were uncatchable. The third, however, was right on the money and Baldwin dropped it like the football was on fire.
Dorsey can’t afford to have Smith’s confidence shaken and at this point, Baldwin was more of a hindrance to Smith than an asset. By trading Baldwin for Jenkins, another underachieving receiver, Dorsey at least brings in a player that Smith has some familiarity with. It really does appear to be a case of the devil Smith knows versus the devil he doesn’t.
The move also keeps the KC offense from getting stuck in a rut, at least for now. While ridding the team of Baldwin won’t immediately solve the Chiefs’s lack of depth at WR, it does open up a chance for guys like Donnie Avery, Devon Wylie, A.J. Jenkins and Junior Hemingway to seize the moment. If that happens, Dorsey will look like a genius for dumping Baldwin and if it doesn’t, the Chiefs will be no worse off than they were before. Baldwin was shaping up to be a very expensive drive killer.
Sott Pioli waited two full seasons before he seriously tried to get Matt Cassel some legit WR help. John Dorsey clearly doesn’t plan on waiting that long. Even if he can’t bring his offense a stud WR right now, he can at least move things around by cutting the dead weight.
With two preseason games to go, Dorsey has given his QB a chance to develop a connection with a receiver that might actually deliver. It might be a Hail Mary, but it is better than taking a knee.