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Saints program cover story: Zach Strief

Veteran right tackle a mainstay for Saints

Photos of New Orleans Saints T Zach Strief from the 2013 season (New Orleans Saints photos)

In the era of NFL fluidity, there is no surprise that beginnings and endings don't sync, that starts and stops are separated by hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of miles.

Players are waived by one team, claimed by another. They're traded because they want out, or because their teams want them out. They exercise their rights to sign elsewhere as unrestricted free agents, and sometimes are allowed to exit as restricted free agents.

Even New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be remembered as the greatest player in franchise history, didn't begin his career in New Orleans – he was a San Diego Charger for his first five NFL seasons.

So count right tackle Zach Strief among the rare few.

He's in his ninth season with the Saints, his fourth as the full-time starter, after having been picked in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL Draft. And whenever his career concludes, it will end where it began – with the Saints.

Strief understands the business of the NFL. Today's game against the Carolina Panthers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be the 122nd of his career, and his 58th start. He knows that he may not play the length of the five-year contract he signed in March as an unrestricted free agent.

But for Strief, being a Saint, and remaining a Saint, is personal.

"My expectation was to make it last as long as it could and to work hard," he said of his hopes after being the 210th overall pick, out of Northwestern. "I think when you start, it's very difficult to say, 'This is my expectation of how my career is going to go.' You just don't know.

"But at this point, I'm proud of having been here for nine years, being a part of one organization, having one head coach. Those are things that guys just don't get the opportunity to do and to be honest, when I'm done here, I'll be done. I'll never play for another organization and that's a cool thing that a lot of guys in this day and age don't get to say.

"I tried very hard to be objective in (free agency), knowing that this past time was my last opportunity and the first time, really, that I was a starter that was a free agent. I had my wishes and my hopes but you have to be able to look at it and say, 'I've got to do what's best for me, even if it's not what I want. I've got to do what's best.'

"The fortunate thing, when I look back on it, is that I got the best of both of those worlds. I got what I wanted and I got what was best for me and because of that, I have that kind of loyalty. That's why I can't ever imagine leaving here and going somewhere else, because of the loyalty that I have to (Saints owner) Mr. (Tom) Benson, to (General Manager) Mickey Loomis, to (Coach) Sean Payton for, essentially, changing my life – for believing in me for this long and allowing me the opportunity that they've given me here."

It has been a mutually beneficial relationship.

From it, Strief gained a professional home, a place he regards so highly that he won't consider finishing elsewhere. For the Saints, the plus has been a reliable starter and locker room leader, a voice of reason who always has the pulse of the team. Strief made his mentor and good friend, Jon Stinchcomb, expendable after the 2010 season, a year after Stinchcomb was a Pro Bowler.

"The role changes, for sure," Strief said. "As a rookie, I'm trying to watch anyone I can see in terms of, 'How am I supposed to do this?' Not just from a football aspect – how do I study and how do I work as a professional because the reality is, in college, it's very different.

"You're there, you've got to do your football stuff and then you've got to get out because you have this other responsibility that's more important than the football one. And now, this is your only responsibility.

"So seeing a guy like Drew Brees work, and Jon Stinchcomb – who probably is more of a reason I'm still here than I am, by what he taught me and showed me. And now, you try and be that guy for a younger player. I try very much to be like Jon was for me, to show guys, to help guys along the way, to give tips, almost like a big brother. You want to be a guy that guys think they can trust and feel like they can get information from, and not just for football. Jon was more than football for me. It's kind of like he taught me everything, all the way up to this point."

And, like Stinchcomb, Strief is prepared to stay put until his NFL time expires. Stinchcomb also was a career-long Saint, from 2003-10.

"I'm very fortunate at this point that this is already more than I ever imagined it would be," Strief said. "You talk about being a rookie and what is your expectation; probably, my expectation wasn't to be still be here nine years, to be a captain, to have won a Super Bowl. To do all those things wasn't the expectation.

"There was a hope that I stuck around long enough to make a little bit of money before I had to move on. But at this point, to whom much is given, much is expected and I've been given a lot of gifts to be here as long as I have and to have met the people that I have met. And I feel obligated to return that to the guys that are coming through.

"It means a lot to me that one day, a (backup tackle) Bryce Harris or a (left tackle) Terron Armstead, in my situation, says, 'I learned something from this guy.' To me, that's as important as any individual success or longevity at this point in my career."

For the Saints, the positive is that Strief has been willing to stay put in order to do it. It's that in an age of fluidity, he has remained solid.

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