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Veteran Saints lineman Zach Strief announces retirement

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

By BRETT MARTEL

AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, La. (AP) Zach Strief's eyes watered up and the normally loquacious Saints right tackle struggled to speak at times as he discussed his decision to end of a 12-year NFL career that exceeded his "wildest imagination."

He did not, however, lose his sense of humor.

Strief, who announced his retirement Monday, said he considered walking away after the 2016 season, but was driven by a sense of obligation to his team - particularly quarterback Drew Brees - to play at least one more year.

"There was no clear replacement on the roster and I knew if I was at home watching TV and Drew was getting hit and I felt like I could have helped, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself," Strief said. "It's much easier knowing that there's someone there that's going to play at a high level for him. So this is all Ryan Ramczyk's fault."

Ramczyk, a late first round draft choice last year, blossomed his rookie season, much of which he spent at right tackle after Strief's Week 4 knee injury, which wound up ending the veteran lineman's season.

Strief's health wouldn't have stopped him from coming back, but the 34-year-old's priorities are changing. He became a father about two months ago and is part owner of a New Orleans microbrewery, where he said with a grin that he hopes to meet every last member of the Saints' fan base.

"I am not above shameless self-promotion," the often self-effacing Strief added, drawing laughs from a crowd of family and well-wishers that included coach Sean Payton and long-time teammates including Brees, running back Mark Ingram, All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan and punter Thomas Morstead.

Some retired Saints that Strief played with early in his career - including Steve Gleason and Deuce McAllister - also attended.

To Payton, Strief said, "You took a chance on me when no one else would. Your faith in me has changed my life."

To general manager Mickey Loomis: "You kept me around for a long time, admittedly to your own surprise. If I was honest, I'd say it surprised me as well."

He told Brees: "My greatest drive as a player was not to let you down. You're the greatest leader I've ever been around and I admire you so much."

The 6-foot-7, 340-pound Strief, a Cincinnati native, was a seventh-round draft choice out of Northwestern in 2006. That was Payton's first season and the Saints' first year back in New Orleans after being displaced to San Antonio by Hurricane Katrina.

Strief recalled struggling in his first training camp and all but making up his mind to quit, but his father urged him to stick it out and some timely encouragement from then-assistant coach Terry Malone persuaded him to persevere.

Strief wound up being part of the most successful era in franchise history, which included a Super Bowl triumph in the 2009 season.

He was a regular reserve during much of his first five seasons, routinely rotating onto the field for tackle-eligible formations. He became a starter in 2011 on an offense that set an NFL single-season record with 7,474 yards.

While quickness and agility weren't necessarily Strief's greatest assets, Payton said Strief's size, strength, intelligence and character made him an elite lineman.

Payton called Strief "an expert at his craft," adding, "We never insert someone just because they're a good guy and they're smart."

Strief counted among his career highlights a game in which was on the field, but not in uniform. He was a healthy scratch for the Saints' emotional and triumphant first home game in the rebuilt Superdome in September 2006.

"I got to see this city at its worst and for 12 years it's gotten better," Strief said. "I've gotten to be a part of not only this organization kind of growing to where it is today, but also this city. So it's very hard not to become attached to that."

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Updated March 12, 2018

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