Terron Armstead has had no time to revel in the five-year, $66.671 million contract extension he signed at the beginning of May.
Armstead, who effectively took over for franchise icon Jahri Evans as the cornerstone of the New Orleans Saints offensive line when he agreed to his new deal, hasn’t even splurged on anything with his newfound riches. The athletic left tackle bought a house this offseason, but that was already in the plans.
He has too much work to do.
“Our schedule’s pretty crazy, pretty tough,” he said. “We’ve got some pretty elite guys, and anybody in the NFL, they can beat you every play, so you’ve just got to prepare the best way you can.”
Oakland’s Khalil Mack leads off in the Saints’ season opener. Seattle’s Cliff Avril, Los Angeles’ Robert Quinn, Detroit’s Ezekiel Ansah and Arizona’s Chandler Jones await down the line, along with the Kansas City tandem of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, plus Denver’s duo of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, arguably the best 1-2 punch off the edge in the NFL.
Armstead may not face off mano-a-mano against every one of those quarterback hunters this season; a lot of the NFL’s best pass rushers will line up on the left side and attack the Saints’ right tackle. But Armstead, who is on the cusp of stardom, plans to be ready for each and every one of them.
“I’ve talked enough about Terron at this point,” said veteran teammate Zach Strief, who has said in the past that he thinks Armstead could one of the best tackles of all time. “I think Terron last year sort of realized how good he could be.”
And he essentially did it on one leg. Forced from the lineup early in the season to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, Armstead returned two weeks later and played all but one game the rest of the season, even though he could often be seen limping heavily as he warmed up.
“I wasn’t 100 percent — I can say that for sure,” he said. “But if I’m out there, I’m trying to play like I’m 100 percent, because the guy across from me doesn’t care.”
Despite the bad wheel, Armstead played brilliantly, allowing only a little more than one pressure per game on average. Freakishly athletic for a man who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 304 pounds, Armstead managed to turn the loss of his physical gifts into a positive.
“It kind of changed my approach,” he said. “Film study, had to play differently, change-ups. Being limited athletically in certain movements, I had to be a little smarter and take away angles a little more than just flat-out athleticism.”
Armstead’s remarkable athleticism tends to get top billing, but his study of the game should probably get the credit. Armstead, who seems like one of the least likely Saints who would need to tinker with his technique, has learned to evaluate his pass set like a golfer, tweaking it every once in a while to correct a flaw.
“The early OTA process, (my pass set) just felt off,” he said. “I don’t know if it was my knee or what, but it was just off. The weekend kind of helped fix it.”
Armstead is starting to feel comfortable again. He spends hours watching film of himself and the NFL’s other top tackles — he has taken techniques from Dallas tackle Tyron Smith and Philadelphia star Jason Peters in the past — taking mental notes on what he can do to improve.
“The thing about Terron is that he’s self-motivated, he’s driven, he wants to be a great player, and that’s such a big part of it,” Saints offensive line coach Dan Roushar said.
No amount of money — not even $66.671 million, apparently — seems to be able to change Armstead’s approach. Now that he has reached the NFL’s top tier, he plans on staying there as long as possible.
“These defensive linemen are getting better and better,” he said. “I’m just trying to fight with those guys.”
And more often than not, Armstead wins that fight.