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Saints' next 'beer man' Zach Strief gets head start on second career

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints have another "beer man."

Zach Strief isn't exactly the next Michael Lewis -- the former Saints cult hero, who earned that nickname when he went from driving a beer delivery truck to starring as a Pro Bowl kick returner.

But Strief might be the second coming of legendary "Cheers" bartender Sam Malone.

The Saints' veteran right tackle is getting a head start on his second career as part owner of Port Orleans -- a new craft beer pub in uptown New Orleans, where it's not uncommon to find the 6-foot-7, 320-pounder holding court at a center table and mingling with customers.

Strief, a native of Cincinnati, has long planned on making New Orleans his permanent home after his playing days are done. And the 33-year-old said he has been on the lookout for the right project and the right business partners to help make that smooth transition into the future.

"Plus, I mean, beer," Strief said with a laugh. "It's awesome."

Strief has always been a bit of a foodie, but he said he didn't have much knowledge of the beer industry before he was approached by a group of partners including successful local businessman Ricky Thomas.

But Strief dove into the new enterprise and said he might have been as hands-on as any of the partners when it came to designing the tap room and the porch, etc. Strief also joked that all of the partners have become pseudo-experts now, saying things like, "Oh, I had this beer, I want to make a beer like this."

"Like, I'm really into it -- which I never was," Strief said. "I'm not gonna lie to people and say, 'Oh, well I traveled the world trying craft beers and I was ready to do my own, or I brewed in my garage for years.' No, none of that stuff happened. But it's amazing how interesting that business is ...

"And ultimately I wanted something that was in New Orleans, that I could be hands-on, that I could go to and see people and thank people for coming. And now I'm very into it."

Strief, a longtime NFL Players Association representative, said his main objective was to find something he could be both passionate about and successful in after his football career, since he knows how difficult that transition has been for so many others.

"It's amazing how many guys I have played with here that are good, smart, sharp guys that left and struggled heavily with that transition," Strief said. "It's hard. There's no way around it.

"Think about it, what are you gonna do? You have to do something, but it can't be what you know. And it's not your decision. ... And you're gonna have to start at the bottom and have to learn. That's a tough mental state.

"So it was important for me to get into something and have something sitting there waiting for me that at least I had something to do, something to work at and learn. Once I'm done playing, I'll probably be more involved than the rest of the partners because they all have businesses to run."

Strief isn't in any rush for that day to come, however.

He is still playing at a high level. In fact, he just had one of the best seasons of his 11-year career in 2016. He gave up only 2 or 2.5 sacks, according to various statistical services. And as Pro Football Focus pointed out, he didn't allow a single sack against dynamic pass-rushers such as Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Vic Beasley Jr., Jason Pierre-Paul, Cliff Avril and others while Drew Brees once again led the NFL with 5,208 passing yards.

The Saints drafted Strief's future replacement in Ryan Ramczyk with the 32nd pick in the draft. But they're in no rush to replace Strief either. In fact, they gave Strief a raise this offseason.

Plus, Strief has added motivation now that he has opened the brew pub.

Strief has always had some spot-on thoughts about the way NFL players (especially offensive linemen) get treated on social media. So he knows what kind of feedback he’ll receive if he screws up.

"I said, you know what, I've gotta be in good shape this year, because that's the first thing showing up on the comments section," Strief said. "First time I get beat this year, I guarantee you, 'It's the lager's fault.' For sure."