Hold That Tiger
Saints should re-sign Nick Fairley to solidify D Line
The New Orleans Saints gambled this spring when they signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley, but hedged their bet by limiting the deal to a one-year, $5 million contract. It’s paid off for the Saints, and now it’s about to for Fairley.
After injuries and inconsistent play dogged Fairley, worries that he might be a distraction have proved unfounded. Through 14 games of the 2016 season, Fairley is on pace for a career year. He’s helped solidify the Saints defensive line, and alongside defensive end Cam Jordan and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins forms what could be one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL.
The Detroit Lions drafted Fairley with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He was an All-American at Auburn University and was selected as the defensive player of the game in the 2011 BCS National Championship against the Oregon Ducks. In the game, he had five tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage, a sack and a forced fumble on his way to leading the Tigers to the title.
Citing inconsistency, the Lions didn’t re-sign him after his initial 4-year, $10 million contract. While with Detroit, an injured shoulder put him on the injured reserve list, ending his season, in 2012, and a sprained knee sidelined him in 2014. He played with the Rams last year, but a December 2015 concussion returned him to IR and ended his season. The Saints couldn’t pass taking a chance on the picking up a player known for his size, power, quickness and athleticism, and signed him in March.
When he came to New Orleans, Fairley was told to “cause havoc and be disruptive.” He’s done that and more to opposing offenses. He has started all 14 games the Saints have played this season, racking up 38 tackles (26 solo, 12 assisted) and 5.5 sacks.
Lined up next to Jordan, the pair consistently overwhelms opposing offensive linemen, penetrates the pocket and causes plays to be disrupted. Fairley has received more playing time than may have been expected in the preseason when Rankins broke his fibula during goal-line drill practices in training camp. Now healthy, the trio of Jordan, Fairley, and Rankins provides a solid foundation which can be built upon for the next few seasons.
Fairley needs to be a priority signing this offseason. He’s bettered the defense already, and may be able to help take it up a level or two. After years of salary cap hell, the Saints will begin to emerge with some space to build the roster. According to overthecap.com, a website that tracks NFL rosters and salaries, the Saints currently have $140 million in total cap liabilities for 2017, including $9 million in dead money. The salary cap is expected to be $166 million, possibly more, next year. That gives the Saints almost $26 million to spend on player salaries next year. The Saints obviously need help at linebacker and in the defensive backfield. With these pieces of the D Line in place, management can focus on signing or drafting players at other positions of need.
Defensive Tackle #90
Hometown: Mobile, Ala.
Experience: 6th year
Year Team Games Starts Tackles Solo Assisted Sacks
2016 Saints 14 14 38 26 12 5.5
2015 Rams 15 0 29 18 11 0.5
2014 Lions 8 8 14 8 6 1.0
2013 Lions 15 15 35 22 13 6.0
2012 Lions 13 7 34 27 7 5.5
2011 Lions 10 0 15 9 6 1.0
TOTAL 75 44 165 110 55 19.5