The New Orleans Saints kept the momentum rolling Monday by agreeing to terms on a new five-year deal with Right Tackle Zach Strief. Strief, who the team selected in the 7th round of the 2006 NFL Draft, was an unrestricted free agent and received mild interest on the open market, but was always thought to favor a return to the Saints. With New Orleans operating under tight cap conditions, the terms had to be right for both sides, and a deal was hammered out on Monday morning. Drew Brees can breathe a sigh of relief now knowing that he will have one of his best linemen back for the forseeable future.
Strief was close to visiting the Miami Dolphins over the weekend, but when it became clear that a return to New Orleans was not only realistic but on the cards, he and his agent focused their attention on striking a deal with the Saints. Strief went from 7th rounder to full-time starter over the course of his first eight seasons as a pro, and has blossomed and developed into one of the league's better pass blockers. He will be bookended by rising 2nd year pro Terron Armstead, and with pro bowlers Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans also set to return on the interior, only Center Brian de la Puente remains unsigned from last year's offensive line group. Zach Streif returns to the Saints on a 5 year deal
Zach Strief played his college ball at Northwestern, where he was coached by the late Randy Walker, a close firend of Saints Head Coach Sean Payton. Strief spent his first years in New Orleans operating as a reserve and an extra Tackle in short yardage and goal line situations. He rose to the starting lineup following the release of John Stinchcomb during August 2011 and has not looked back. Strief allowed only 4 sacks of Drew Brees last season and did a good job containing some of the pass rush specialists he was often matched up against in the trenches.
Strief's contract will be worth $20.5 million with $8.5 million guaranteed. At 30, Strief still has some good years ahead of him and will bring his experience back to a Saints offense which is looking to put a bigger emphasis on its rushing attack heading into the 2014 season. Strief's best work comes in pass protection, but he is more than capable against the run. Coming off a year in which he played the most snaps of his career, Strief's arrow is still pointing up as one of the league's most consistent offensive linemen.
With another veteran locked up, the Saints have done themselves well so far in free agency. They may face some more daunting cap issues down the road, but with Drew Brees and the team's core still mostly intact and poised to make another playoff run, the Saints are all in for the present. Bringing back Strief is another positive step in the right direction to seeing that run come to fruition in 2014.