Nick’d Up

Saints will miss defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s production in 2017
associated press
After seeking three doctors’ opinions on a heart condition, the New Orleans Saints placed defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the reserve/non-football-injury, ending his season and potentially his career.

          The New Orleans Saints won’t kick off the 2017 season until September, but the team suffered a big loss this week when the team placed defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the reserve/non-football-injury, ending his season and potentially his career.

          After signing a one-year “audition” deal, Fairley started every game for the Saints in 2016 and had a career season for sacks (6.5) and tackles (43, 29 solo).

          The team signed the 29-year-old to a four-year, $28 million contract in March and expected him to be the centerpiece of the defensive line going forward. But after consulting with multiple doctors, the player and team deemed a heart condition Fairley’s had his entire career is too risky for him to play this season and maybe ever again. 

          Saints head coach Sean Payton said Fairley sought three opinions on how the ailment could impact him after the first two physicians he saw reached differing opinions. “The first one was one that advised that he shouldn't play football again,” Payton said in early June. “The second opinion was a little different.

          “The things we know are this, it's obviously something significant and serious that we've got to pay attention to, obviously both for Nick and for the club.”

          Fairley’s heart issue was revealed during his NFL combine workout in 2011, still Detroit picked him 13th overall. He played with the Lions (2011-14), Rams (2015), and Saints (2016) during his career, totaling 170 tackles and 20.5 sacks.

          The loss for the Saints, beyond the player’s 6-foot, 4-inch, 308-pound frame, is immense. Larry Holder, columnist for The Times-Picayune/, wrote this week that he considered Fairley one of the team’s top 10 players entering the 2017 season. Now, what appeared to be a settled position not only becomes a question mark, but also adds additional burdens to every other position on a defense looking to emerge from the among the league’s worst. 

          Fortunately for Fairley, he’ll still receive much of his salary. Unfortunately for the Saints, due to salary cap rules, that’s money that can’t be spent replacing him. 

          The team has Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata, both second-year players, in reserve. Rankins is more polished and has a lot of potential. The Saints picked him with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, and signed him to a four-year, $12.8 million deal. He broke his fibula in preseason in mid-August and didn’t return until Week 9 in November. He played in nine games as a rookie and finished with 20 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble. Onyemata, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada, in 2011 to attend the University of Manitoba, where he first saw and started playing American football. The Saints drafted him in the fourth round with the 120th overall pick last year.

          The team also appears ready to move third-year player Hau’oli Kikaha from linebacker to defensive end, a position he played in college. Kikaha suffered an ankle injury in 2015 and missed 2016 with a torn ACL. This offseason, they also added Alex Okafor, who has battled injuries the past two seasons, after registering eight sacks in 2014.

          If the front seven can’t get pressure on the quarterback or stop the run, it will make the secondary’s job that much harder. With the return of health of Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams and the addition of first-round pick Marshon Lattimore and Damian Swann, the team seems set at cornerback. Safeties Kenny Vaccaro, Vonn Bell, and Rafael Bush add second-round pick Marcus Williams to their ranks. Keeping the backside of the defense covered will ease the pressure on the D-line and linebackers.


Fairley certain to miss his production

Nick Fairley had a career year with the Saints in 2016, but a heart condition will keep him on the sidelines in 2017, maybe forever. Fairley played with the Lions (2011-14), Rams (2015), and Saints (2016) during his career.


Season Team Games Comb Solo Asst. Sacks
2016 NO 16 43 29 14 6.5
Career   77 170 113 57 20.5



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