Keeler: Baldwin had all the tools - except the ability to catch the darned ball
AUG 19, 2013 6:33p ET
In the spring of 2011, the University of Pittsburgh star wideout measured 6-foot-4 and change. He ran a 40 in 4.51. He boasted a vertical of 42 inches and a 6-8 wingspan. If Calvin Johnson was Megatron, Baldwin had the goods to turn himself into a pretty decent Starscream.
"You have to catch the football," coach Andy Reid had said during a conference call last Saturday.
Baldwin didn't. Period. Full-stop. End of story. The last pass thrown at the Pennsylvania native as a Kansas City Chief, he dropped, which was awful and perfect, all on one fell swoop. He was open. The toss from quarterback Alex Smith was almost numbers-perfect. He whiffed anyway.
We might never know exactly if that moment -- during the first half of a 15-13 exhibition loss to the San Francisco last Friday night -- was the last straw in the minds of Reid and new general manager John Dorsey, neither of whom drafted Baldwin or felt any loyalties toward the fact that he was the club's first-round selection in 2011.
"When we give you an opportunity," Reid had said, "you have to make sure you take advantage of that opportunity."
Baldwin didn't. Which more or less explains why such a physical specimen who a year ago at this time was being touted as a possible successor to Dwayne Bowe was on Monday traded to the Niners for another underachieving former first-rounder, receiver A.J. Jenkins.
"We felt like this trade was beneficial," Dorsey said in a news release, "for all parties involved."
And sometimes, you've just got to know when to cut bait. In two seasons-plus in Kansas City, Baldwin will be best remembered for three things, none of them kind:
1. Injuring his wrist in a fight veteran teammate Thomas Jones in August 2011;
2. His uncanny ability to appear positively dazzling in spring and summer practice sessions, especially those of the non-contact variety;
3. His complete inability to replicate that practice form in the fall once the real games, and real contact, actually started.
Over 26 regular-season appearances as a Chief, Baldwin was targeted just 2.41 times per game, which meant he struggled to get open. Of the 99 balls thrown his way, he actually caught just 41.4 percent of them, which meant he also struggled to bring in the few balls that actually came his way.
As you might imagine, neither of those numbers mesh with the new regime in the slightest. In his receivers, Reid values reliability and consistency over physique, given a choice. He's running the west coast offense here, not a Mr. Universe pageant.
And there were signs in the spring, in hindsight, going back to the earliest Organized Team Activities (OTAs) that Baldwin and the Reid/Dorsey power bloc might not be compatible, long-term. While his new coach made a point to be supportive, complimentary and politically correct in front of the cameras, you have to wonder, privately, if patience with the former Panther had finally worn thin.
One argument in Baldwin's defense had been to factor in the raggedy arms -- namely, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn -- charged with throwing him the rock. But after months of workouts and two preseason games with Alex Smith and Chase Daniel turning up largely similar results, Reid and Dorsey came to the same realization as Chiefs fans: The biggest thing holding No. 89 back was, in fact, No. 89 himself.
"We keep shooting the ball to him and that's the thing, and you don't know what you will get out of him," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson had told reporters 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 ... you continue to press on. We always talk about short-term memory. You have to have it in this business and move on."
Monday, the Chiefs did exactly that. Because regardless of how you parse Baldwin's legacy, the bottom line remains the same: Arms of steel are superfluous if they're attached to hands of stone.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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