During this free agency period, I have been so wrapped up in the flashy, skilled positions that I have ignored those who matter most… the big men up front.
I’ll spare you the clichés about the game being won or lost on the line, but I will tell you that there is a reason for such clichés to exist. Excellent line play is the quickest way to improve a team overall, and poor line play can dismantle an otherwise great team.
The Saints have lost a lot of big names lately from positions of note. Names like Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Darren Sproles, and Lance Moore will no longer be wearing the Black & Gold. As upsetting as this may be to some, there could have been a far worse loss had the Saints let big RT Zach Strief get away. In a classic case of me becoming that which I hate the most, I started ignoring the free agent situation on the offensive line for the big name signings.
Anytime Strief was brought up in the conversation, my go-to response was a dismissive “ah yes, they must work that out too.” I should have realized how critical it was to keep Strief. He is the paragon offensive lineman. He is intelligent, he has great feet & hands, he is humble, and at 6'7", he is colossal. I always imagine people like this on ancient battlefields… scary!
We spend all day talking about how Drew Brees is the key to the Saints' success, and yet, we tend to ignore the men up front who are responsible for keeping him healthy. I’m going to be honest here; I did not know how good Zach Strief was last year. Between Jimmy Graham, Drew, and the rest of the skill guys I too got blinded by the bright lights and flashy numbers. Zach Strief quietly made himself into one of the best, if not the best RT in the league last year, and I feel that we never really talked about him that much.
John Clayton had Strief on his 2013 All-Pro team at right tackle. Pro Football Focus actually had Strief rated as the top RT in the entire NFL last year and 7th best tackle overall. When I read this fact while trying to find contract details, I was mindblown. This man was performing at an elite level all last season, yet I feel his contributions were largely unheralded.
Well I am here to say: never again! I shall wave my fat man flag proudly as I seek to do a better job this upcoming season to truly break down the offensive line, and figure out who is struggling and who is excelling.
We can all breathe a huge sigh of relief that big number 64 is staying in New Orleans. It looks like Brees and Co. will once again be putting on a show come fall time.