For the second straight season, the New Orleans Saints have landed a veteran defensive tackle with minimal risk involved.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a former first-round pick for the Detroit Lions who spent last season in St. Louis, agreed to a one-year deal with the Saints on Monday.
Fairley chose a one-year deal with the Saints over offers from the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles, according to the NFL Network. The move adds a veteran defensive tackle to a Saints’ haul that has managed to add five veterans to the roster and keep most of the team’s key free agents despite opening the free-agency period with minimal cap space.
“Thanks to the Rams organization for a great year,” Fairley tweeted on his personal account. “(Who Dat) Saints nation let’s get it.”
New Orleans opened free agency with a major need — what the Saints’ leadership would call a “must” — at the 3-technique defensive tackle position, the penetrating interior defensive line spot manned by 35-year-old Kevin Williams last season.
When New Orleans signed Williams last summer, the aging star was expected to be part of a rotation, but injuries and roster moves at other spots on the defensive line forced Williams to play 555 snaps, or 52.1 percent of the defense’s snaps, last season.
Fairley, who is 28, is better-suited to handling that kind of workload, and the Saints’ returning players put on a full-court press over the weekend to help lock in the veteran’s services. Kenny Vaccaro, Keenan Lewis and Mark Ingram all reached out to Fairley on social media, and after news of the signing broke, defensive end Cameron Jordan tweeted his excitement at the move.
The Saints appear to be getting a player who has something to prove.
Fairley, who won the Lombardi Trophy at Auburn and arrived in Detroit with great expectations, produced 11.5 sacks in 2012 and 2013 while playing next to Ndamukong Suh. But his production as a pass rusher fell off in 2014, leading to his departure from the Lions and a one-year cameo in St. Louis last season. Fairley combined for 1.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits over the past two seasons, although he did play more of a complementary role in St. Louis behind Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers, one of the NFL’s best defensive tackle tandems.
A one-year deal for Fairley allows the Saints to minimize the risk of a player whose uneven production throughout his career can be attributed to periodic weight issues, part of the reason he wasn’t offered a second contract in Detroit. Fairley has also been fined six times for on-field conduct, and he was arrested twice in 2012, although he hasn’t been in trouble with the law in the five years since those arrests.
If Fairley can return to form, he’d bring a much-needed interior rush to a Saints team that struggled to get much push inside last season unless defensive end Cameron Jordan moved to the interior. No Saints defensive tackle produced more than the 1.5 sacks or five quarterback hits produced by rookie Tyeler Davison. If the Saints move Hau’oli Kikaha to defensive end, as coach Sean Payton hinted last week, New Orleans could also move second-year defensive end Bobby Richardson back to the 3-technique position, the spot he began playing in training camp last year before New Orleans traded Akiem Hicks and installed Richardson as the starter at end.
New Orleans could also add a 3-technique tackle from the draft’s deepest position, a move that would lock up a long-term option at the position if Fairley spends only one season with the Saints.
But bringing Fairley into the fold adds a veteran option at a position that looked wide open when the offseason began.