This year’s NFL draft should tell us a lot about how the 49ers view the value of a stout offensive line, and how much they believe right tackle Colton McKivitz will realistically improve over the offseason.

Most of the consensus on the 49ers’ needs, including this website, puts offensive tackle as the clear-cut top priority. It’s hard to imagine San Francisco doesn’t view its roster the same way.

However, while most mock drafts have the 49ers either trading up or reaching for an OT prospect at the end of Round 1, there’s a pretty easy path to draw where San Francisco opts to improve its long-term outlook over finding an upgrade at right tackle and/or heir apparent to left tackle Trent Williams. Their willingness and desire to trade up will come entirely down to how the team feels about McKivitz internally. They signed him to a two-year, $4.56 million extension last offseason, and then gave him an additional one-year extension this offseason worth up to $7 million. Those dollar amounts don’t necessarily tell us one way or the other what the team believes they’ll get from the 28-year-old moving forward.

If the club is out on McKivitz’s long-term outlook at tackle, history tells us they’ll make a big move to find his replacement.

They did so when they traded DeForest Buckner to the Colts in 2020 and immediately snagged his replacement, Javon Kinlaw, with the pick they acquired from Indianapolis. That same year they badly needed help in their receiving corps, so they traded up in the back of Round 1 to pick WR Brandon Aiyuk. Then when they needed a long-term answer at QB, they took the biggest swing in team history to move up to the No. 3 overall pick to draft Trey Lance.

This is a front office that isn’t afraid to jump up in the draft, but more recent history tells us they’ll only do so to address a glaring need. If they believe McKivitz is a player they simply can’t move forward with, then we should expect San Francisco to be aggressive in pursuing a trade up to find one of a deep OT class’s top players.

On the other hand, they may not view McKivitz as the kind of player who needs to be immediately replaced. He wasn’t great in 2023, but he was also not an abomination that needs replacing or it will derail the 49ers’ entire season. Adding competition there instead of handing him the job like they did last year may be enough to make the club feel good about its right tackle situation heading into camp. In this scenario, it’s hard to envision San Francisco making a significant jump up the board.

As with all things there’s a gray area between the two extremes that the 49ers may also be hoping to fall in. They could also be okay with McKivitz, but eager to add high-end competition for him where they’re happy to sit at No. 31 and take the best OT that happens to fall to them. In that case they’re adding a potential starter, but they’re using just one pick to acquire that player which makes it more palatable if they’re unable to beat out McKivitz on Day 1.

The 49ers won’t divulge their plans and in the lead up to the draft on April 25 there’ll be plenty of connections between San Francisco and any tackle prospect that may slide outside the top 15 or so. How the team moves in this year’s three-day selection process could make or break their hopes to extend their Super Bowl window, and for now it appears those moves will come down to how they feel about McKivitz.

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