Fairley could make Lions pay for contract snub

Although Nick Fairley shows flashes of greatness, there are other times when he basically disappears -- which is hard to do for a man his size.

Raj Mehta/Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — In another week, the Detroit Lions’ offseason program will end with most of the players leaving town until training camp opens in late July.

For Nick Fairley, that will be a serious test. Can he keep the 25-30 pounds he claims to have shed off or does he revert to his old, bad habits?

"He looks good," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said following Tuesday’s practice. "He’s lost a lot of weight.

"The key will be when he leaves here and when he comes back in camp. If he’s still in that great shape, with his weight down, it’s going to be great for us."

New image for Princeton?

Frustrated by the inconsistency of a young player they believe has the talent to be one of the league’s elite defensive tackles, the Lions decided not to pick up the final year on Fairley’s contract for 2015.

It was a slap in the face for a guy who was the 13th pick overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Although Fairley shows flashes of greatness, there are other times when he basically disappears — which is hard to do for a man his size.

Fairley said he was informed of the Lions’ decision several weeks ago while he was working out in Houston, trying to lose some of the excess weight that has seemingly held back his development during the first three years of his career.

"Kind of surprising," Fairley said. "It caught me off-guard."

But after talking to his agent and having some time to think about it, Fairley said he’s just fine with the idea of becoming a free agent a year earlier than expected.

It definitely could work to his benefit. If he gets his act together and plays to his potential with more consistency, Fairley should cash in.

If not, he has only himself to blame.

"It motivates me," he said.

Fairley said he’s dropped his weight from 320 pounds to between 290 and 295, mostly by changing his eating habits.

"I didn’t feel comfortable with myself," he said. "I was getting tired. I just thought I’d be leaner, meaner, ready to go.

"I seen that I couldn’t play at it (the higher weight) last year. I feel like I’m comfortable where I’m at right now."

Cutting down on burger-and-fries combos, pizzas and other junk food has made a difference — at least temporarily.

"That’s what helped me out a lot," Fairley said. "Burger King, McDonald’s, I was on there heavy.

"I did the Subway diet. It started taking pounds off. Baked chicken, grilled fish, just eating real good instead of fast food everyday."

Austin is trying to push Fairley into developing the right habits on a daily basis, both on and off the field, which will in turn help him become a more consistent player.

Fairley, who returned to practice Monday following surgery to correct a sleep-apnea issue, has a tendency to rely purely on his natural ability.

"He (Austin) wants me to get in the weight room more and more and more often, get out there and basically work on my technique — work on this, work on that — so it comes really just second nature," Fairley said.

So far, Austin likes what he sees.

"He’s got a great personality," Austin said. "I think he wants to have a big year."

After the team’s mandatory mini-camp next week, Fairley plans to return home to Alabama. It’s that setting, with a lack of structure, that could quickly become a negative for someone like Fairley.

He’s one of those big, loveable guys, but he can lose his focus when he’s on his own, without his coaches and teammates close by to keep him on track.

"I’m going home, relax, chill with my dog, my niece and nephew, eat a little gumbo with momma," he said. "Then I might start working out."

Fairley started to laugh at what he’d just said. At this point, he knows exactly what he needs to do to arrive at training camp in shape for what’s turned into a crucial, contract year for him.

It seems there’s nothing more motivating for professional athletes these days than to be entering the final year of a contract, and the Lions should benefit this season with Fairly thinking that way.

As for whether he’s looking forward to testing the free-agent market in a year, Fairley simply said, "I’m gonna wait on that. I’m not going to answer that one. Just got to wait to see."