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Mike McGlinchey’s impending exit will provide another test of 49ers’ O-Line development

Colton McKivitz could be asked to make the jump to starter.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Both the 49ers and Mike McGlinchey appear to have accepted the reality that the right tackle whom they drafted in the first round in 2018 will not be a part of San Francisco’s plans going forward.

McGlinchey will become a free agent when the new league year begins next week, and is free to negotiate with teams from Monday.

The former ninth overall pick will be one of the top tackles on the open market, meaning he will likely receive a deal well out of San Francisco’s price range. The Niners have just $6.4 million in salary cap space, according to Over The Cap.

Speaking in an interview with KNBR, McGlinchey indicated he expected to find a new home quickly when the negotiating window opens.

“[McGlinchey’s wife] Brooke and I will be waiting by the phone to hear what happens,” McGlinchey said. “We got a lot of intel coming off the week at the combine and all that stuff of what’s going on and what we can expect to happen. Once Monday hits, I’ll have a pretty quick decision to make and hopefully be signed by the first day of free agency.”

He added that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch had already spoken with him about his free agency.

“Obviously, it’s something that was expected. The writing was kind of on the wall a little bit in that regard,” said McGlinchey. “John and Kyle both had conversations with me before I left the building. It was something we all kind of expected.

“It’s definitely a tough deal. We have a lot of great players in the 49ers organization, which is why we’ve been good for the last five years, and it makes it hard to afford everybody. We have a Hall of Fame [tackle, Trent Williams] — and maybe the greatest to play the tackle position — on our team already. It’s hard to imagine them paying top dollar for both.”

McGlinchey has often been maligned in his time with San Francisco, but dependable starters at right tackle can be very difficult to find.

San Francisco, though, has had success developing offensive linemen of late. Left guard Aaron Banks, whose selection was widely criticized after he essentially redshirted in 2021 as a second-round rookie, and center Jake Brendel blossomed into reliable starters on the interior of the line in 2022. Brendel had previously started only three games in his NFL career.

In addition, Spencer Burford produced several impressive performances as a fourth-round rookie at right guard last season, even as he split time with veteran Daniel Brunskill.

McGlinchey’s departure could test San Francisco’s ability to develop offensive linemen further. If they do not use their one of their three third-round picks in the draft on a rookie right tackle, it appears likely they will go with Colton McKivitz – a fifth-round pick in 2020 – as the successor at the position.

McKivitz has started two games over the last two seasons, both at left tackle in place of an injured Trent Williams, and both against the Los Angeles Rams. He stepped up admirably in Week 18 of the 2021 season as the 49ers punched their postseason ticket and helped them see off the same opposition in Week 4 last season.

The Niners can afford to be encouraged by McKivitz’s success in filling the void in big games in previous years but, even though he was employed as their ‘swing tackle’ in 2022, asking him to perform on the opposite side of the line for an entire campaign would represent a much more imposing challenge for the former West Virginia Mountaineer.

San Francisco’s coaching staff has facilitated expedient development from the likes of Banks, Brendel and Burford and is worthy of significant praise for doing so. However, for as much as Shanahan can coach around deficiencies up front, a weak link at right tackle is the kind of deficiency that can derail an offense.

The 49ers cannot allow McKivitz, assuming he is McGlinchey’s heir apparent, to become such a weakness. After turning three inexperienced players into starters on the O-Line last year, the pressure may soon be on offensive line coach Chris Foerster to achieve the same feat with McKivitz and ensure he blossoms into a player the 49ers can lean on in 2023.