Saints All-Time Lists

Could Nick Fairley become the most significant wasted talent of the last 5 years?

mdmellow
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18: Nick Fairley
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 18: Nick Fairley /
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NEW ORLEANS, LA – NOVEMBER 13: Trevor Siemian
NEW ORLEANS, LA – NOVEMBER 13: Trevor Siemian /

No. 4:    Nick Fairley

This entry is a little bit speculative. But as for the rest of the people on this list, it seems like Nick Fairley has played his last down of football.

Fairley started out as a college phenom at Auburn.

As a junior he compiled 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss (including the bowl season), earning the Lombardi Award for best college lineman as a result.

He declared for the NFL draft following that breakout season. It was during the pre-draft physicals that doctors first noted his heart condition. The full details weren’t made public, but it is suspected that Fairley suffers from cardiomegaly, or an enlarged heart.

The Detroit Lions took Fairley 13th overall in 2011, and paired him with the previous year’s #2 pick and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh. Fairley played 4 seasons in Detroit, but he struggled to stay healthy and was often overshadowed by Suh’s stellar play and controversial antics.

DETROIT, MI – NOVEMBER 20: Ndamukong Suh
DETROIT, MI – NOVEMBER 20: Ndamukong Suh /

When Fairley was able to stay healthy, he showed flashes of dominance on the field. But he seemed unhappy with the system in Detroit. His level of enthusiasm and effort was inconsistent, both on and off the field.

After the Lions declined Fairley’s 5th-year option, the St Louis Rams signed him as a free agent. It ended up being basically a depth signing. The Rams had burgeoning superstar Aaron Donald and model-of-consistency Michael Brockers manning the interior D-line. Fairley was relegated to a situational role.

After a full year of limited snaps and under-the-radar performances the Rams let Fairley walk. He signed with New Orleans on a second consecutive 1-year ‘prove it’ deal.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 18: Ken Crawley
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 18: Ken Crawley /

He went on to have the best season of his career with the Saints in 2016, setting career highs in tackles, sacks and QB hurries. He seemed reinvigorated, playing in a new city with an increased role. Fairley became a leader for the Saints in 2016, and they rewarded his efforts with a 4-year $28 million contract.

It seemed he had turned his career around, and once again the sky was the limit for Nick Fairley.

Then the bad news came. Fairley missed the Saints OTAs this year, and it was reported that teammates weren’t able to contact him on the defensive line’s group chat.

We reported last week that Fairley had been placed on the Non-Football Injury list due to recent changes in his heart condition. He sought the advice of three separate independent cardiologists, and the decision was made to put his career on hold, and potentially, on ice.

DETROIT, MI – AUGUST 22: Nick Fairley
DETROIT, MI – AUGUST 22: Nick Fairley /

Even though Fairley has played his entire NFL career with his heart condition, when the nature of the condition changes it’s obviously best not to tempt fate.

Every couple of years, stories come out about college or high school athletes dying suddenly and unexpectedly due to complications from heart defects. That’s what makes this so scary. Any incident involving the heart has the potential to be fatal. Even if things have always been stable, there’s an increased risk that that something could go wrong.

And as unfortunate as it is for the Fairley and the Saints, personal health should remain his highest priority.

So what will become of the college superstar who seemed to finally be realizing his full potential? Only time will tell, but I sincerely hope that he will return to football and make his mark on the game.

If not, we’ll all be left wondering what could have been.

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