Nick Fairley signed a one-year contract with a $3 million dollar base salary that proved to be one of the best bargains in the NFL as he had a career year in New Orleans. Fairley finished the year with 6.5 sacks and 29 tackles, both single-year career highs.
In what was surely an emotional roller coaster of a year, Fairley got the recognition he deserved and hadn’t experienced since his days in Detroit, but also had to deal with the tragic passing of his mother in the middle of the 2016 regular season. Now Fairley is entering free agency for the third year in a row, but his focus can be squarely on football - and the New Orleans Saints’ focus should be squarely on Nick Fairley.
Fairley has already gone on record saying he wants to stay in New Orleans. Sean Payton has returned the sentiment, responding that the Saints would love to have Fairley back on the Saints in 2017. Fairley had a career year here, says he feels comfortable playing here, and is only a couple of hours away from his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. He’s even gone further to say New Orleans would have an upper hand in free agency dealings over other teams vying for his services.
With approximately $30 million in cap space in 2017, the Saints have the cap space to bring back Fairley on a two-year deal, and he should be the top priority for the Saints this offseason.
You could argue there are bigger and more pressing needs for the Saints right now. A pass rushing specialist opposite should-be-All-Pro Cam Jordan is essential. Failing to improve the secondary would be almost criminal at this point. Even with an offensive line that over-performed, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Whether the Saints address these additional needs in the draft or via free agency, you would most likely be seeing outside players come in to fill those voids. Any player coming in to play for the Saints brings in a degree of uncertainty, regardless of past success (see Jairus Byrd, C.J. Spiller, Stephone Anthony, etc).
Nick Fairley is a known commodity at this point. He could conceivably be taking a “hometown discount” to stay in New Orleans. Sheldon Rankins should be expected to play a full, healthy season, but Fairley would absolutely be a key piece in continuing to improve the pass rush - edge rush only works so well if you don’t have big bodies in the middle close holes in the middle of the pocket.
The New Orleans Saints should make Nick Fairley their first priority this offseason. Get him signed, possibly on a discount, and then use the rest of the money to address the the additional needs of the team. Fill a hole with a known commodity for the Saints, then go out and make a riskier splash with all of the money you have left over.