This NFL free agency loss will hurt 49ers the most in 2023

George Kittle #85 and Mike McGlinchey #69 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 and Mike McGlinchey #69 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The 49ers watched a number of starters depart via NFL free agency in 2023, but this one might be the most critical and difficult to overcome.

For the most part, the San Francisco 49ers have been successful in turning their roster over on a year-to-year basis since making it to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2019 season.

And there have been specific cases where one player’s departure has led to a fill-in replacement turning into quite the unexpected storyline, such as center Jake Brendel relieving a retired Alex Mack in 2022 and doing so with a tremendous impact.

The Niners are hoping their net losses in NFL free agency in 2023 will generate similar results.

So far, San Francisco has lost a number of key starters, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, safety Jimmie Ward, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, EDGE Samson Ebukam and others who are certainly capable of the spot start.

But there’s one free-agent loss that should be a bit more critical than the rest.

Losing Mike McGlinchey hurts 49ers more than other NFL free agency departures

Alright, so you might laugh a little bit.

Right tackle Mike McGlinchey certainly wasn’t a fan-favorite player, and his reputation for being a bad pass blocker was only reinforced by this (somewhat hilarious) video of blown sets against pass-rushers back in 2020:

When McGlinchey was beaten, he was beaten badly. And there were enough inconsistencies to suggest he wouldn’t be a long-term answer for the 49ers anyway.

But, now serves as good a time as ever to remind critics that just because a player is a perceived weakness doesn’t mean that replacing him will be easy.

And it’s fair to question whether or not McGlinchey was truly that bad.

Pro Football Focus isn’t the end-all, be-all evaluation too. But according to them, McGlinchey wasn’t horrible in 2022. Not by a long shot. He earned a 71.5 overall grade, and his pass-blocking grade wasn’t horrible at 65.5. Additionally, he surrendered just six sacks and 27 pressures. If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot, one player many a Niners fan thought could replace McGlinchey in NFL free agency, Atlanta Falcons tackle Kaleb McGary, gave up the same number of sacks in 2022.

McGary re-signed with Atlanta, though, while McGlinchey is off to the Denver Broncos on a five-year, $87.5 million deal.

Why 49ers losing Mike McGlinchey will hurt

Can we finally admit that having an above-average offensive line is essential in winning a Super Bowl?

Not an elite defense, not a prolific wide receiver corps. No, an O-line is vital. With one, the Kansas City Chiefs just defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. Without one, KC lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just a few seasons ago.

Hopefully, the Niners learned this lesson. However, replacing McGlinchey won’t be as easy as just, well… replacing him.

Currently, the best on-roster option is perennial reservist Colton McKivitz, who has just five regular-season starts under his belt and has been on the fringes of hanging around the roster since he joined the league in 2020.

The remaining cast of free agents is pretty thin unless San Francisco elects to go with a former McGlinchey fill-in, backup tackle Tom Compton, and the 2023 NFL Draft is widely viewed as being both weak and thin for offensive linemen, particularly tackles.

As such, the 49ers could actually end up being weaker at right tackle than they were when McGlinchey was in town.

And that could convince fans to think they miss his presence on that side of the O-line.

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