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The Saints can’t afford to not pay Nick Fairley

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While the cost might be higher than most Saints fans expect, they shouldn’t be quick to let want to let him walk.

NFL: Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Nick Underhill of The Advocate confirmed what many Saints writers and analysts had predicted coming into the offseason. John Hendrix here at CSC thought back in December that he could cost between $8-$10 million. Now, that number could go even higher if the Saints are forced into a bidding war.

Nick Fairley is going to ask for more than the $6 million a year home town discount some had hoped for. Underhill anticipates Fairley to look for less than Cameron Jordan’s $11 million a year, but still desire $9 million or greater.

This might cause many loyal Who Dats to balk at bringing Fairley back for another season with New Orleans. When blindly viewing Fairley’s stat line throughout his career, some might make the case that he has only had one good season, Fairley has not earned a contract that large.

Issues arise immediately from that viewpoint. For one, under that premise there has been little to no production throughout his six year career in the NFL. It also doesn’t include the fact that he played behind two of the better players at his position in the NFL today. Those players being Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

First, let’s take a look at Fairley’s career numbers:

As you can see by this graphic, Fairley only started 30 total games in his first five seasons in the NFL. In his previous five seasons, including his first season with New Orleans, he has at least 5.5 sacks in three seasons. Fairley was tied for 5th as a DT in sacks during 2016.

While this number seems pedestrian compared to the sack leaders around the NFL, for a pass rushing defensive tackle these are good numbers. Fairley is one of only nine active players who have at least 5.5 sacks in three separate seasons. He finished as the 11th best player at his position following his 2015 campaign with the Rams.

When you account for how few snaps he got at times at his natural pass rushing position (he put up higher snap counts in New Orleans than his previous two seasons combined) these numbers could have been even higher.

The potential cost of $9 million has been deemed too high by many, but in reality is it? As you’ll see below, at that price Fairley would fall somewhere between the 9th - 11th highest paid defensive tackle if he stayed inside the $9 million number. One must also account for the continual rise in salary cap every year. When the cap rises, so do player contracts.

2017 Defensive Tackle Salary Cap Hits

Player Team Age Cap Hit Games Tackles Sacks
Player Team Age Cap Hit Games Tackles Sacks
Ndamukong Suh Dolphins 29 $19,100,000 13 57 5.0
Marcell Dareus Bills 26 $16,400,000 5 27 3.5
Malik Jackson Jaguars 26 $15,500,000 13 27 4.5
Gerald McCoy Buccaneers 28 $13,750,000 12 26 7.0
Michael Brockers Rams 25 $11,000,000 11 14 0.0
Damon Harrison Jets 28 $10,600,000 13 77 1.5
Geno Atkins Bengals 28 $10,600,000 13 25 6.5
Tyrone Crawford Cowboys 27 $10,350,000 13 26 4.5
Corey Liuget Chargers 26 $9,500,000 13 30 0.0
Fletcher Cox Eagles 26 $9,400,000 13 35 5.5
Kyle Williams Bills 33 $8,300,000 12 55 3.0
Haloti Ngata Lions 32 $7,750,000 10 17 1.5
Arthur Jones Colts 30 $7,350,000 8 30 0.0
Linval Joseph Vikings 28 $6,850,000 13 55 3.0
Star Lotulelei Panthers 26 $6,757,000 13 19 4.0
Sharrif Floyd Vikings 25 $6,757,000 1 0 0.0
$169,964,000
2017 Defensive Tackle Salary Cap Hits John Hendrix

If there is a solid argument against retaining Fairley’s services it has to be the same reason he wasn’t paid high dollar in either St. Louis or Detroit. With Sheldon Rankins being selected overall 12th overall in last year’s draft it is clear the franchise envisions him as the future on the inside of the defensive front.

Even if Fairley were to start in 2017, it is likely that Rankins will surpass him the following year as the predominant receiver of snaps. It’s very possible this transition start in 2017. Can New Orleans justify paying a player a top 10 salary on a multi-year deal if during the length of that contract they know said player will not be a starter.

For the Saints this is a good problem to have. It isn’t often they have an abundance of quality players at a particular position, especially defensively. If New Orleans can design his contract to front load most of his guaranteed money and bulk of cap space so that it allows them to cut him, if needed, after the first or second year it it could allow them to work around the Rankins issue.

Fairley has put up the numbers to deserve a sizeable pay day this coming March. For the Saints, they would be letting a very valuable piece walk. Entering into free agency Mickey Loomis has more money to work with than he has in several years. In fact, he has more than twice as much this offseason as he has had in any of the previous three years.

There’s no denying that previous free agent deals have come back to haunt the team in the past, but if they structure it right they could keep Nick’s services while still preventing the “cap hell” scenario that has occurred too many times when players have been cut recently.

Where do you fall on the Fairley issue? Should the Saints attempt to re-sign him or let him walk if he doesn’t opt to take a significant home town discount? Rumblings of teams being interested in his services have already started with free agency three weeks away.