Free-agent spotlight: RT Zach Strief

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
8:00
AM ET
The New Orleans Saints have 15 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, including four full-time starters. Here's a breakdown on starting right tackle Zach Strief:

Strief
Position: Starting right tackle
Age: 30
Height: 6-7
Weight: 320

Scouting report: Strief is a rare example of a player that actually seems to get more credit from national analysts than from the Saints' fan base. Such is the nature of the right tackle position, I guess. Part of the reason is that Strief struggled quite a bit back in 2012, in part due to injuries. However, Strief was excellent in both 2011 and 2013. He was the Saints' most consistent offensive lineman last season. ESPN's John Clayton named him a first-team All-Pro at right tackle, and Pro Football Focus had him rated as the top right tackle in the league.

Strief, who became a full-time starter in 2011, isn't a dominator at the line, but he's a solid all-around player. His massive size makes him a strong run blocker. But he has also proven to be athletic enough to protect quarterback Drew Brees in a pass-happy offense and get out in front of screen passes, which the Saints love to run. Strief allowed only three sacks last season (though he also committed a costly holding penalty late in the playoff loss at Seattle). In 2012, however, Strief allowed seven sacks in just 12 games played.

Strief was drafted in the seventh round out of Northwestern in 2006 and spent his first five seasons as the sixth lineman/jumbo tight end. He is also a respected leader in the locker room who has been named an offensive captain and a union representative by teammates.

Projection: The Saints would love to have Strief back -- but only if he comes at a reasonable price tag because of their salary-cap limitations. Otherwise, Strief could follow former linemates Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod and Jonathan Goodwin, who received bigger contracts elsewhere. I could definitely see another team outbidding the Saints for Strief's services, since he could be rated as the top right tackle available in this year's free-agent class (other candidates include Austin Howard and Michael Oher, plus young linemen who could potentially switch positions).

It's hard to gauge Strief's exact market value. Last year, top right tackles Gosder Cherilus, Andre Smith, Phil Loadholt and Sebastian Vollmer received deals worth between $5 million and $7 million per year. But others like Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo settled for one-year deals worth $2-$3.5 million. Strief turns 31 in September, but he doesn't have a ton of wear and tear on his body.

If the Saints lose Strief, I could see them turning to third-year backup Bryce Harris, who has shown some potential in that sixth lineman role the last two years. Or young backup Marcel Jones or a new draft pick could potentially compete for the job. I doubt the Saints would spend significant money on a veteran free-agent replacement.

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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