Zach Strief didn’t get a call on draft night.
And he never expected one, not even after New Orleans surprised almost everybody by taking Andrus Peat with the 13th pick.
A few members of Strief’s family, his father in particular, kept expecting the Saints to call their starting right tackle and offer some insight behind the move, but Strief knows better. Strief, a 31-year-old heading into his 10th season in New Orleans, knew the day would come eventually.
“I understand how it works, and I also understand I’m not playing forever,” Strief said. “I never intended to.”
Strief also isn’t quite ready to surrender his spot in the starting lineup.
The big right tackle is coming off of arguably his two best seasons in New Orleans. According to Pro Football Focus, Strief allowed three sacks, six quarterback hits and 31 hurries in 2014, numbers that ranked him eighth in the NFL at his position, placing him firmly among the top tier of players at his position.
Strief said he knows New Orleans offensive line coach Bret Ingalls wants to put the Saints’ five best offensive linemen on the field, regardless of position. At this point in his career, Strief said he believes he’s firmly entrenched in the top five.
“Now, if they were putting the five most talented on the field, I probably would have never played once,” Strief said. “The reality is, I think I still have a lot to give the team. I think I’m still playing at a high level, and I think I’m as healthy as I’ve been in my career. I’m in as good of shape as I’ve been.”
Peat’s selection prompted widespread speculation that Strief, the rookie or even left tackle Terron Armstead would be moved inside to guard, and if all three are among the top five, there remains a possibility the Saints make that kind of move.
But Strief, whose 6-foot-7 frame is much better suited for tackle than the interior of the offensive line, doesn’t believe he’s kicking inside anytime soon, a belief echoed by the rest of the Saints offensive line, coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis since draft night.
“I think I could play it if we didn’t have anyone to play that spot, but I don’t feel that way,” Strief said. “I feel like we have two really good players (in Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete).”
Peat, for his part, spent all of his time at tackle during the Saints rookie minicamp last week.
The No. 13 pick in the draft — and the third offensive lineman taken overall — is usually headed to a team with an immediate need at his position. Instead of stepping into that pressure, Peat was picked by a team without a clear need at the position, at least heading into this season.
If Peat ends up waiting to step into Strief’s role, the result would be that New Orleans is ultimately better prepared if injuries strike Armstead or Strief this season. When Armstead went down for two games last year, Bryce Harris struggled.
“I wouldn’t say it threw me for a loop,” Peat said. “I would just say it’s a good opportunity to learn from those guys and better myself, learning from them and working with them.”
Peat hasn’t been able to meet Strief or Armstead yet. Due to Stanford’s class schedule — the school operates on quarters, rather than semesters — Peat hasn’t worked out with the team as much as the rest of the rookie class, although he was able to go through the minicamp workouts.
When the two finally do meet, Strief won’t have any trouble allowing the rookie to pick his brain.
“I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about him as a person, as a player, talent level, character, all those things that as a player you want a guy to be,” Strief said.
“At the end of the day, I said this last year, I said it the year before. My role at this point is to, 1.) Play the best football I can play; 2.) Be a leader; and 3.) Pass on as much information as I can to the next group of guys.”
Strief has already said he knows Peat will take his job eventually. Armstead is still a blossoming player at 23, and Payton sees Peat as a better fit on the right side than the left, although the rookie is getting snaps at both spots as he learns the offense.
Now, the veteran finds himself in an unusual position, simultaneously trying to hold off a rookie’s challenge and training Peat to take over for him eventually.
“I don’t know that ultimately anything really changes this year, for him or me,” Strief said. “Or maybe it does, and that’s fine, too. Because, at the end of the day, that’s a result of your performance, and I think that generally, the fair way is the right way.”