The New Orleans Saints have found a new rock to serve as the cornerstone for their offensive line.
Three months after the Saints said goodbye to former guard Jahri Evans, the man who served as the bell cow for the New Orleans offensive line for a decade, the team has locked up left tackle Terron Armstead with a five-year extension through the 2021 season, a source confirmed to The Advocate on Wednesday.
By striking a deal with Armstead now, the Saints have locked up one of the league’s best young tackles a year before he hits free agency.
“I am excited that we have been able to reach an agreement with Terron to keep him as a member of the New Orleans Saints,” general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement. “Terron is a valuable and important piece to our offense and has shown that he is one of the top players in the game today. The dedication, talent and skill that Terron has demonstrated to begin his career both on the field and off the field have been an asset to the organization and the community and we are pleased that he will be a valuable member of our team for many years to come.”
Drafted in the third round out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff in 2013, Armstead blossomed into one of the league’s best offensive tackles in 2015.
According to Advocate research, Armstead gave up 23 pressures on more than 500 pass-blocking snaps -- he played 929 snaps overall -- essentially allowing the pass rushers lined up on Drew Brees’ blind side to affect the quarterback on only one or two snaps per game. For his performance, Armstead was named a Pro Bowl alternate at the end of the season, although he was unable to accept the invitation due to an injury.
What made Armstead’s performance even more impressive was that he spent most of the season playing on one leg.
Four games into the season, Armstead badly injured his left knee against Dallas, although he was able to finish that game. Armstead underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee after the game, missed two games to recover and then returned to the lineup, even though it meant playing in pain the rest of the season.
“I’ve had what he has,” veteran right tackle Zach Strief said in late December. “It’s hands down the most painful thing I’ve ever dealt with.”
Armstead’s ability to play through the injury is a sign of his growth as a player.
When the Saints first selected Armstead, he was a freakish, raw athlete -- he holds the record for an offensive lineman by ripping off a 4.71-second 40-yard dash in the 2013 NFL scouting combine -- who had to adjust to a new level of competition. A backup initially, Armstead took over for Charles Brown as the starter at left tackle late in his rookie season, then cemented himself as the team’s starter by anchoring the left side for 14 games in 2014.
With two years under his belt, Armstead opened the 2015 season under great expectations, expectations given him by his teammates. New Orleans’ veteran offensive linemen watched Armstead meld his tremendous raw ability with hard work; he puts in long hours in the offseason studying the rest of the league’s top left tackles to give himself an edge.
“Terron probably has every single attribute you’d look for in an offensive lineman,” veteran tackle Zach Strief said in training camp. “There is no ceiling. He could be one of the best of all time. He really could. I believe that very much.”
Armstead had already earned a raise for the final year of his rookie deal; his salary rose from $705,000 to $1.69 million in 2015 after he met the playing-time benchmarks required to activate the NFL’s Proven Performance Escalator, which requires a draft pick to play 35 percent of his team’s snaps over the first three years of his deal.
But the Saints decided to move decisively to keep Armstead in New Orleans for the long haul as a core member of the future Saints. New Orleans made a similar move to keep defensive end Cameron Jordan last summer, extending Jordan’s initial deal by five years and essentially making the two-time Pro Bowler the face of the defense.
Now it’s Armstead’s turn.
“I’m extremely grateful and blessed for this opportunity,” Armstead said in a statement. “I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Benson, Mickey Loomis, Coach Payton and the entire organization for the faith they have shown in me and my abilities. I would not be as fortunate as I am today if it were not for the faith and support of my family, teammates, coaches and the fans of the New Orleans Saints. I look forward to working hard along with my teammates to reach our ultimate goal of bringing another championship to this great city. I love this city!”