Whether or not to resign Nick Fairley is easily the single most pressing decision for the New Orleans Saints this offseason.
I’ve argued in the past that the Saints would be better off without resigning Nick Fairley. The argument was simple enough: the Saints have bigger needs at DE than they do at DT. And Fairley is set to demand top dollar in free agency.
Neither of those facts have changed. But after the franchise tag period, Jairus Byrd’s release, and amid reports of a possible Brandin Cooks trade, there’s suddenly much more to consider.
The DE cupboard looks increasingly bare.
Free agency hasn’t even officially started yet, and already the top DE options are off the board. Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, and Jason Pierre-Paul. When I argued that the Saints could do without Fairley, it was under the assumption that they’d be spending top dollar on one of these game-changing pass rushers.
But all three were tagged, and there aren’t many game-changing options left on the board.
There are still options at DE, and WDD will lay out those options for you in the future. But even if the Saints do manage to land one of the remaining EDGE rushers, they won’t command the sort of big money that the Saints would have liked to spend at the position. And they likely won’t provide the same degree of relief for this DL group.
Without being able to bring in the big-money help that they wanted, they’ll need more than ever to keep together the core of rushers that showed any effectiveness in 2016. And Nick Fairley is at the top of that list. He’ll still command top dollar, but they’ll have that money now that they can’t spend it all on a DE.
The Cooks trade, and the draft
The other thing to consider is the fact that the Saints are now slated to get more picks in the 2017 draft. Assuming these reports of Cooks’s departure hold water—and it looks very much like they do—the Saints will pick twice in the first round of 2017.
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That dramatically changes their roster outlook. Up to this point, analysts have struggled with what position the Saints would address early in the draft. DE seemed an obvious choice. But Reuben Foster has reportedly been hovering around that 11th pick. And CB is another position of need that the Saints look poised to address in the draft.
If the Saints do get into that first round with a second pick, they have the luxury of filling more than one hole. That all but guarantees that they’ll land a DE in the first or second round.
Ideally, a rookie DE wouldn’t start right away. And they’d have some veteran presence behind them to coach them up. With the DE market looking as it does now, the Saints may not have either luxury. They may need a rookie DE to come in and start right away. And if they do, it’s imperative that that rookie comes out of the early rounds.
The Saints have, since the beginning of the offseason, expressed an interest in retaining Nick Fairley. But reports are generating more and more heat on the topic.
In his interview with John DeShazier, Mickey Loomis expressed a hope that Fairley can come back to New Orleans. On the subject of Fairley’s impending free agency, Loomis said, “it’s always important that you keep your core group together.”
And The Advocate’s Nick Underhill recently reported that the Saints have expressed an interest in resigning Fairley. According to his sources, the Saints have already begun exploratory talks with a number of their free agents. Fairley is presumably among those.
The Saints know the sort of money that Fairley will command in free agency. He was near the top of the league in Sacks and Pressures for his position, and it still only 29. He won’t be the highest paid DT in the league, but he won’t come cheap.
And the fact that, despite that, the Saints have expressed an interest, goes to show that they’re willing to spend money if it means keeping their breakout 2016 signing.
Reports are that Fairley wants to play 2017 in Black and Gold, so we can only hope he works to get it done.