SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers could have cut wide receiver A.J. Jenkins before the start of the regular season, but it would have come at a price.
But the cost would have been much steeper to keep him around.
After all, just one day earlier, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh stated, "The best players make the team."
And at the NFL owners 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was asked about the addition of veteran free agents but he spoke about the entire roster.
"We don't make promises. We don't make guarantees," Baalke told CSNBayArea.com. "We look at it like, 'We're bringing you in to compete.' You will earn that role on this team through competition. That's with every player."
Jenkins did not earn his way with the 49ers, that much was clear. As far as on-field production, Jenkins was near the bottom of the 11 wide receivers on the 49ers' 90-man roster. But the 49ers also had to consider salary-cap implications if they were to cut him free.
After all, if the 49ers were to release Jenkins, he would have cost the team $1.58 million and $2.77 million on the salary cap this year and next -- plus the cost of the player to replace him.
[REWIND: Jenkins traded to Chiefs for Baldwin]
With such high-priced players as Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree with contracts set to expire after the 2014 season, every dollar saved can be devoted to retaining the club's young stars.
A.J. Jenkins was a swing-and-a-miss for Baalke. That is not in question. Forget the notion that Jenkins was a bust. Of course, he did not pan out and maximize his potential. But, let's remember, he was as surprised as anyone that he was chosen with the No. 30 overall selection.
Jenkins was not a good fit for the 49ers from the beginning. They figured he would get stronger and improve that part of his game. But it never happened. The final piece of evidence came Friday night.
Jenkins simply could not get off the line of scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs' 6-foot-3 cornerback Sean Smith. Jenkins looked defeated, his confidence in complete disrepair.
With a division stacked with tall, physical cornerbacks, Jenkins would have been overmatched on a weekly basis within the NFC West. That was never more apparent than during Friday's game.
Baalke and the 49ers also deserve a lot of credit. After all, Baalke, who hit a grand slam in the 2011 draft, recognized the Jenkins error and did something about it.
The 49ers needed an X receiver or split end to take Crabtree's spot. The split end is stationed on the line of scrimmage. Any corner wishing to play press coverage can get within inches of a receiver's face before the snap of the ball. Jenkins was not strong enough to cope with that kind of defense.
In exchange for Jenkins, the 49ers picked up Jon Baldwin, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder who had not panned out for the Kansas City Chiefs. Baldwin and Jenkins were with their new teams Tuesday morning, as the trade became official as they passed their respective physicals.
On the surface, Baldwin (shown, below right) appears to be a better fit with his new team. And he is certainly should be a better solution for the 49ers than Jenkins.
The 49ers are getting a wide receiver who has a chance to contribute. Plus, the 49ers win on the financial ledger, too.
The Chiefs pick up Jenkins' two years of guaranteed salaries. The 49ers this season are on the hook for Baldwin's guaranteed salary of $1.061 million. The No. 26 pick in the 2011 draft still has plenty of "upside," so the 49ers will keep him on the 53-man roster to see if they can bring out his potential. Baldwin's $1.275 million deal for next year is not guaranteed.
[RELATED: Teammates react to Baldwin-for-Jenkins trade]
This year, Jenkins will still count $873,000 against the cap (down from $1.578 million). Next year, Jenkins will still count $1.75 million on the cap -- the final hit from his $3.5 million signing bonus.
This is certainly not a win-win situation for the 49ers. It's a loss, plain and simple.
But Baalke and the 49ers acted quickly to minimize the loss. And for that, the organization deserves credit.