Saints well protected at left tackle, will need to replace RT Zach Strief soon

The good news for the New Orleans Saints' offensive line? They appear to be set at the two most important positions for the foreseeable future -- left tackle and center.

The bad news? Right tackle Zach Strief and right guard Jahri Evans aren't going to last forever, despite the good seasons they both had as 11-year veterans in 2016. Even if both come back this season, the Saints have to start planning for the future, which should make both positions priorities in this year's draft.

That's why I have the offensive tackles ranked No. 7 in my position-by-position breakdown of the Saints' offseason needs -- and guard will be even higher on the list.

Current depth chart:

Terron Armstead. Age 25, signed through 2021. 2017 salary and bonuses: $9.3 million. 2017 salary-cap number: $11.5 million.

Zach Strief. Age 33, signed through 2018. 2017 salary and bonuses: $4 million. 2017 salary-cap number: $5.1 million.

Andrus Peat. Age 23, signed through 2018 (Saints control option for 2019). 2017 salary and bonuses: $1.47 million. 2017 salary-cap number: $3.11 million.

Tony Hills. Age 32, unrestricted free agent.

Avery Young. Age 24, scheduled to be exclusive-rights free agent in 2019. 2017 salary and bonuses: $465,000. 2017 salary-cap number: $467,333.


Strief and Evans both dipped into the fountain of youth a bit last year, each staying relatively healthy and having their best seasons in two or three years. That was a big reason why New Orleans' offense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game, No. 6 in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed and tied for 12th in yards per rushing attempt.

If both of them decide to come back in 2017, the Saints should still be in good hands. But it remains possible that one or both could consider retirement. So the Saints need to start finding replacements for them ASAP.

Strief is due a $1.5 million roster bonus this spring. Chances are, the Saints will pay it as long as Strief lets them know he is ready for another year. If that happens, I don't expect New Orleans to seek a veteran tackle in free agency. I expect it to be a higher priority in the draft -- maybe not in Round 1, but soon after.

As for the vital left tackle position, the Saints appear to be set for a long time -- assuming Armstead can finally get over his two-year battle with nagging knee and quad issues. When healthy, Armstead is one of the best young tackles in the league, which is why the Saints signed him to an extension worth $13 million per year last summer.

And when Armstead can't play, Peat can slide over from left guard to left tackle as he did last season.

Peat had a nice bounce-back year in 2016 after struggling as a rookie in 2015, mostly because the Saints finally found a comfortable fit for him. The Saints originally thought Peat's long-term future would be at right tackle when they drafted him with the 13th overall pick in 2015, but he struggled with that transition.

The 6-foot-7, 316-pounder looked much more comfortable in 2016 -- both at left guard and left tackle -- after the Saints decided to keep him on that side of the ball. His future looks even brighter now than it did at this time last year.

Previous rankings:

No. 12 Specialists

No. 11 Wide receivers

No. 10 Tight ends

No. 9 Quarterbacks

No. 8 Running backs