Saints re-sign right tackle Zach Strief to five-year deal

“Obviously, this organization has been a big part of my life. I feel like I’ve been a part of the success here, and I don’t want to leave that.” ZACH STRIEF, Saints right tackle, in January on his desire to stay with New Orleans

After spending almost a week as an unrestricted free agent, right tackle Zach Strief has agreed to re-sign with the Saints, for whom he’s played his entire eight-year career, the team announced Monday.

Strief did not visit any other teams before agreeing to a new deal with New Orleans, which is for five years. The Saints did not disclose the terms, but a source told The Advocate that Strief’s deal was worth up to $20.5 million, with $8.4 million guaranteed and a $5.5 million signing bonus.

Strief will earn a first-year base salary of $900,000. He will tie up a total of $2 million of the team’s salary-cap space for 2014, the source said.

The 30-year-old Strief has all along wanted to remain with the Saints, and the team hoped to keep him, according to his agent, Ralph Cindrich. But New Orleans was “not in a position to make an offer” as free agency began on March 11, Cindrich has said.

The Saints’ front office has since been able to change that. Aside from re-signing Strief, they’ve extended running back Pierre Thomas’ contract by two years, successfully pursued marquee free-agent safety Jairus Byrd and traded running back Darren Sproles to Philadelphia for a draft pick, among other decisions.

New Orleans will feel that it can scratch off one of the most pressing items on its to-do list this offseason after re-signing Strief. Recently, they had been unable to retain some of their most prized offensive linemen from departing in free agency: left guard Carl Nicks joined Tampa Bay in 2012, and left tackle Jermon Bushrod headed for Chicago last year.

Strief had been one of the Saints’ offensive captains since 2012, and he’s been one of their top locker-room leaders. A seventh round draft pick for New Orleans in 2006, he’s started 42 games for the Saints, including the playoffs. Coach Sean Payton inserted him into the starting lineup three seasons ago, two years after the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

With Strief as a starter, the Saints have gone to the divisional round of the playoffs twice and won the NFC South once.

“Not only has he done an excellent job at the right tackle position, but he has served us well as an offensive team captain for the past two seasons and has always been a great asset in the community since he first came here,” Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement Monday.

The website Pro Football Focus gave him and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees the highest overall ratings for Saints players in 2013.

After surrendering just three sacks and four quarterback hits on one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the NFL, Strief earned Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest rating among tackles. He had just two holding penalties — the fewest among the Saints who began the season as starting offensive linemen — and one false start.

He was arguably the best performer on an offensive line featuring two guards — Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans — who were selected to January’s Pro Bowl.

In their statement Monday about his new deal, the Saints also called Strief “one of the NFL’s most community-minded players.”

“He has made countless visits to local schools and hospitals in the Greater New Orleans Area, taking a particular interest to assisting youth and people in need,” the Saints said.

The tackle earned a base salary of $2.23 million in 2013. At the end of the season, he expressed his desire to rejoin New Orleans for what he considered his “last opportunity to sign a contract in this league.”

“Obviously, this organization has been a big part of my life,” Strief said in January. “I feel like I’ve been a part of the success here, and I don’t want to leave that.”

The Saints have several other players who were on the roster at the end of the 2013 league year and were on the open market at the beginning of Monday: center Brian de la Puente, wide receiver Robert Meachem, left tackle Charles Brown, linebacker Parys Haralson, backup quarterback Luke McCown and defensive back Jordan Pugh.

Backup linebacker Will Herring, the 2013 special-teams captain, hit free agency and agreed to a one-year deal with Dallas. But it was subsequently called off. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman hit the market, but he reportedly was planning to retire.

The Saints chose to not tender three restricted free agents: fullback Jed Collins, wide receiver Joe Morgan and defensive linemen Tom Johnson.

Saints interested in Rice?

The NFL Network reported the Saints are among a handful of teams interested in wide receiver Sidney Rice. Rice, a free agent, was with the Seahawks from 2011 to 2013 but tore an ACL in October, and he missed Seattle’s run to the Super Bowl.

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, who covers the Lions, speculates that Detroit might try to target McCown, who backed up Brees in 2013 and is now a free agent. In January, the Lions gave their offensive coordinator’s job to Joe Lombardi, who had been the Saints’ quarterbacks coach since 2009.

Also, return specialist Trindon Holliday, the former LSU player, agreed to a one-year deal with the New York Giants, according to numerous reports. He was with Houston from 2010 to 2012 as well as Denver from 2012 to 2013 and was a free agent.