Film Study: 2016 New Orleans Saints Free Agents

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Nov 15, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) is introduced to the crowd prior to the start of a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 15, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (55) is introduced to the crowd prior to the start of a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports /
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Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Nick Fairley, defensive tackle

It took a few weeks of recruiting on Twitter from would-be teammates and a fruitless visit with the New England Patriots, but former Auburn Tigers defensive tackle Nick Fairley finalized a contract with New Orleans.  Fairley agreed to what is essentially a one-year deal that had to be drawn up as three years to fit inside the team’s limited 2016 salary cap space.

Because of the current structure, Fairley will be incentivized to play well, keep his weight under control, and earn an extension next spring.  Likewise, if the tryout pans out, the Saints will be encouraged to work out an extension for Fairley before he hits the open market.

But what kind of player did the Saints get in Fairley?  Most Saints fans probably haven’t watched him play a snap since his troublesome days as a former Detroit Lions first round pick.  Plagued by sleep apnea, Fairley’s weight ballooned up to 325-plus pounds before he underwent correct surgeries and treatment.  He got his weight down to 295-pounds and played for the Rams last year at 281-pounds.  The newer, svelte Nick Fairley is a considerable talent despite his lackluster stat sheet.

There have also been concerns about Fairley’s behavior off-the-field.  He has been known to enjoy the nightlife and the privileges that come with his celebrity status, but that wasn’t an issue under head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams – two coaches notorious for their questionable leadership qualities.  Fairley has matured on the field as well, receiving only three penalty flags last season – seven times fewer than what Brandon Browner was called for.

Fairley underwent a sort-of career transformation in St. Louis; in Detroit, he played mostly from the one-technique and was well north of 300-pounds.  He was a space-eater who was supposed to free up opportunities for Ndamukong Suh and Ezekiel Ansah.  In St. Louis, he became a sleek disruptor who takes the initiative to make his own plays.

The 28-year old Fairley took a one-year deal with the then-St. Louis Rams last year, playing only 36.4-percent of their defensive snaps on a line flush with talented teammates.  While Fairley only recorded one sack and one tackle for loss, he made himself known as one of the better interior disruptors in the NFL next to the transcendent Aaron Donald.

On tape, Fairley played with great energy and was constantly disruptive.  He stood up well at the point of attack from the one-technique position and pushed the pocket from the three-technique, even if he didn’t get the sack numbers you’d expect.  But disruption is production and Fairley’s rate of quarterback pressures relative to his opportunities is one of the best in the NFL.  Considering all defensive tackles with 1,000-plus pass rushes to their name since 2012, only Geno Atkins and Ndamukong Suh have better rates of pressure.  The Saints have not had a disruptive presence like Fairley on the interior defensive line under Sean Payton.

As of now, Fairley is scheduled to get a maximum of $3-million on his one-year deal.  He received a one-year, $5-million from the Rams last year but did not get a callback.  The Saints have signed him under his market value, and with the potential to continue to build their young defensive line through the draft (names like Vernon Butler, Chris Jones, and Jarran Reed have been attached to the Saints) or through a blockbuster trade (embattled New York Jets lineman Mohamed Wilkerson?), Fairley is in great position to earn a bigger contract next spring.

Did you like this article?  What are some things you want to see that I didn’t talk about?  What kinds of Saints-related content do you want to see from me in the future?  Drop me a line on Twitter for updates and notes about all things New Orleans Saints football.

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