Zach Strief enters this off-season as an unrestricted free agent for the first time, and it's going to be very interesting to see how much interest he garners on an open market. The 6'7" 320 pound mammoth has the kind of size that any coach would dream of having at a tackle position. In his four seasons with the Saints, he's been buried on the depth chart behind Jammal Brown, Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb. While he's gotten a substantial amount of playing time fairly consistently, he's never really gotten a shot as a full time starter. His reps the past two years have mostly come in the form of blocking tight end and that's hardly been a way for him to showcase his best skill set.
Let's face it, the guy is a tackle, and a beast of a tackle at that. He's not a tight end. He doesn't have the foot quickness or agility to be a consistently effective blocker off the edge. What's more, anytime he saw the field it was a clear indication that the Saints were running the ball. The few times they didn't, it meant one less option in Brees' progressions. Sean Payton clearly found ways to get Strief on the field because he likes him, but I don't think you can say Payton put Strief in the best position to succeed. Not even close. Despite that, he deserves recognition for playing largely solid football as a blocker.
How realistic is that, though? Right now the starters are Jermon Bushrod and Jon Stinchcomb. The Saints seem to think Strief is better suited to play on the right side, and it looks like Charles Brown is being groomed to possibly be an eventual starter on the left. So the question is whether or not the Saints would get rid of Stinchcomb. While Stinchcomb had a mediocre season, I think the Saints like his play and they love his leadership. It's hard to envision that scenario, but it's not impossible. Stinchcomb does have an escalating salary, and the Saints may decide to invest elsewhere and cut the chord. The CBA situation will play a role in that decision to an extent, I'm sure. Even then, there's no guarantee that they'll settle on Strief as his long term replacement, should they decide to part ways with Stinchcomb. I believe they should, but you never know.
As for Strief returning to the Saints as the "swiss army knife" of the offensive line again, I think that's even less likely. I just feel like the top reserve on one of the best lines in the league should get an opportunity elsewhere. Someone will pay him. Add to that the fact that Strief is a great guy and a high character individual, someone will want him on their team as a starting right tackle. I'm sad to admit it but I don't think he'll be with the Saints next season, and frankly, I think he deserves this opportunity.
I wish it was with the Saints because my vote would be to give him a shot as the starting right tackle over Stinchcomb. I thought the edge blocking by starters in general by the Saints this past season was very spotty, and the tackle position is one of the few places on the Saints' offense that could use an upgrade. I'm not convinced I like Bushrod as a starter long term either. The Saints will either have to overpay to keep Strief as a backup, which still may not convince him to stay, or they'll have to promise him a starting role. If they don't someone else will.
What do you think? Should the Saints step up and finally give Strief a REAL opportunity?