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Still going strong in Year 12, Saints' Zach Strief gets rare raise

METAIRIE, La. -- Eventually, Zach Strief’s performance is going to drop off. And when it does, the New Orleans Saints’ 33-year-old right tackle insists he’ll retire before he becomes a liability.

But it certainly didn’t happen in 2016, when Strief had one of the best seasons of his 11-year career.

And as a result, the Saints gave Strief a rare raise this offseason, worth at least $700,000 and possibly up to $1 million with per-game bonuses, even though he still had two years left on his deal.

He will now make up to $5 million instead of $4 million -- not exactly breaking the bank, but a little more in line with a guy who is starting and playing at a high level for one of the NFL’s best offenses.

“Listen, there was also a restructuring last year that was the other direction,” Strief pointed out. “I think what’s great here is I think there was an acknowledgement of a level of play. And as much as I feel that was a really fair thing for them to do, it’s also something that doesn’t happen very often.

“So obviously no different than the year before, I think there was tremendous mutual appreciation between me and the organization. ... I certainly appreciate them taking care of someone that I feel like has tried to represent the organization correctly.”

Strief came to New Orleans as part of that unforgettable 2006 draft class, arriving as a seventh-round draft pick out of Northwestern the same year that head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived.

But as much as the Saints have always loved Strief as a solid player and respected team leader, they have been preparing for that drop-off in recent years.

They drafted tackle Andrus Peat in the first round in 2015, then moved him to left guard when he failed to beat out Strief.

They also altered Strief’s contract last year, shifting some guarantees into per-game roster bonuses. But Strief earned every penny while starting every game last year for an offense that led the NFL in total yardage.

Sure enough, the Saints again prepared for the future when they drafted offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd pick in this year’s draft out of Wisconsin.

Strief insisted that he would love to see Ramczyk earn the job at some point. But at the same time, Strief isn’t going to hand it over without a fight.

“It would be ideal for me here to have a clean transition and have him go on and play 10 years. I would be proud of being a part of that,” said Strief, who said he is “excited” to have Ramczyk around, asking questions and working to get better.

“I’ve been playing a year at a time,” said Strief, who said he’s not like “all these quarterbacks that want to play 'til they’re 100.” “That being said, as long as I’m the starter, I’m gonna be here.

“I feel healthy, I feel good, I’m moving well and I think I’ve been productive. So I’m gonna stick around.”