Zach Strief is expected to retire after 12 seasons in New Orleans, according to a report by the NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport.
Strief, who admitted last summer that he was ready to walk away if he felt like the Saints had a capable replacement at his familiar right tackle spot, said after the season that he wanted to take some time to decide, given that his final season ended on injured reserve due to a torn ACL and MCL suffered against the Dolphins.
According to Rapaport’s report, Strief has made his decision to ride off into the next phase of a life that is already waiting for him. A year ago, Strief became part-owner of Port Orleans Brewery, and he became a father when his son, Rhey, was born in late January.
If Strief has decided to walk away, he is leaving an offensive line that will strongly bear his imprint.
A seventh-round pick out of Northwestern in the Saints’ foundational 2006 draft, Strief ended up staying with the Saints longer than anybody else in the rest of a class that included Reggie Bush, Roman Harper, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston.
And if Strief has decided to move on, only quarterback Drew Brees and punter Thomas Morstead remain from the 2009 Super Bowl champions.
His story is remarkable in an NFL where players often don’t get a chance to start if they don’t make an impact right away.
Strief was the Saints’ sixth offensive lineman for five seasons, frequently playing the tight end role in the Jumbo package New Orleans has always used under Sean Payton, before ascending to the starting lineup in 2011.
Strief blossomed into one of the NFL’s best right tackles as a starter over the next six seasons. In 2016, his last full season as a starter, Strief stonewalled a laundry list of the NFL’s best rushers and held them without a sack.
As he entered the 2017 season, though, Strief was candid that he didn’t want to be one of those players that hangs on until every drop of time had been extracted from his football career.
“My career has been more successful than I ever imagined it would, and again, I don’t have any desire to stick around for years and years and years hanging onto it,” Strief said last June. “When it’s time, it’s time, and I think that’ll naturally kind of play itself out.”
Strief has handled the final years of his career with the Saints with incredible grace, class and dignity. When New Orleans drafted Andrus Peat in the first round of the 2015 draft, the initial vision was that the Stanford product would eventually take over for Strief at right tackle.
Peat ended up settling in at left guard, but Strief made it clear that he’d do anything he could to help the newcomer get ready.
Strief’s attitude remained the same when New Orleans drafted Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk in the first round last April. Ramczyk moved down to New Orleans early and spent a couple of weeks working with Strief to prepare for his rookie season.
Due to Terron Armstead’s injury, Strief opened the season in his familiar spot on the right side, with Ramczyk manning the left. Up until that point in his career, Strief had remarkable luck with injuries, but he went down with a knee injury against the Vikings in the season opener, then tore his ACL and MCL against the Dolphins in London.
No veteran wants their career to end on an injury, and the injury was one of the chief motivations for Strief to return.
“Obviously there’s part of you that says, ‘Maybe it’s time,’” Strief said. “And there’s part of you that says, ‘I don’t want to finish like that.’”