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The true value in trading Vernon Davis

Many fans derided the picks the 49ers received in the Vernon Davis, but what value can the 49ers really expect in return for an aging star?

Vernon Davis is now officially a member of the Denver Broncos. 49er fans can now spend less time thinking about the impending VD Jamba Juice empire, and instead shift to what we got in return for the best tight end in franchise history.

While we don't know what the final return is at the moment on the Vernon Davis trade, (hey - even Adam Schefter has changed his tune on this one) right now it appears the San Francisco 49ers netted a 6th round pick in 2016 and a 7th round pick in 2017.

The common refrain on Twitter went a little something like this:

The underlying sentiment is that 1. Trent Baalke sucks and 2. We won't get a quality player in the 6th round anyway. On both accounts the 49ers lose and will continue their inevitable descent into irrelevance.

I am not going to try and convince you that Trent Baalke is the second coming of Ozzie Newsome. David Neumann put together a fantastic, and comprehensive, analysis on Trent Baalke's tenure as the 49ers' general manager. Of all the things wrong with the franchise, Trent Baalke and his ability to value and evaluate are not near the top of the list.

Many just overestimate what a 6th round pick means for a franchise. Fans want a starter with every pick in the NFL draft. Bill Belichick found Tom Brady in the 6th round after all! Expectations drive perceived value, and you should not expect much from 6th round picks.

One of the better ways to measure draft success is using games started. It allows a quantitative approach with a large enough sample size to identify trends. Tony Villioti from National Football Post has some great aggregate stats on draft performance based on round selected.

The data says that about 75-percent of five-year starters come from rounds 1-3. And if you're drafted in rounds 4-7 the probability of you becoming a five-year starter are just north of 9-percent.You simply should not expect picks after round 4 to become quality starters. There's no reason to expect that the 49ers will get more than depth players with these picks.

General managers simply do not find many starters after the fourth round very often. And for fans to expect that of Trent Baalke is unreasonable.

So why make this trade at all? First, the trade is fully within the market for aging veterans. Anquan Boldin, arguably the 49ers best wide receiver for three years, cost the 49ers a 6th round pick. Even younger players like Jonathan Bostic that just don't fit their current team can be had for late-round picks. Considering that Davis is only signed through the end of this year and Baalke got a draft pick so Denver could rent Davis for the rest of the year.

More importantly, the NFL draft is a game of probability. It's clear the 49ers are not simply a piece or two away from contending. Trent Baalke understands something that few GMs seemingly do: The more picks you have the more opportunities you have to find that five-year starter in later rounds.

If you believe that Trent Baalke is bad at his job, then he will need to increase his chances at finding as many starters as he can. He can't do that with aging tight ends that will be gone in 8 games.

If you think Trent Baalke is a pretty good GM with some deficiencies, then you know he can find quality contributors in the 6th round like Kenneth Acker, Boobie Dixon, and (gasp!) Kyle Williams. You also know he can find depth players like Nick Moody. You also give a decent GM known for wheeling and dealing ammunition to move up and target a player in the draft or get the next Anquan Boldin.

Even if the eventual trade nets players that never make the 49ers roster, an entirely likely outcome, it's still not a bad trade. Had we kept Davis, the team nets nothing at year's end. In executing the trade, Baalke increases his team's probability of finding a player to help the roster of the future. And that's just something that Vernon Davis could no longer give the 49ers.