Nick Fairley: At what cost?
This offseason, the Saints front office faces one of its toughest decisions in recent memory: whether or not to resign Nick Fairley.
This isn’t a question of whether or not the Saints want Nick Fairley on their roster. It’s a question of whether they can afford to pay him the money he’ll likely garner in free agency.
Fairley is, without question, valuable to this team. As of now, he’s clear and away the second best defensive lineman on the roster. He’s played well against the run, and done an admirable job of soaking up offensive lineman in the run game. Most importantly, though, he does a great job of getting after the quarterback.
As I recently broke down, the Saints finally have some spending money heading into the 2017 offseason. That’s great news, because the team has plenty of holes to fill. Particularly at guard and defensive end.
In the breakdown, I assume the Saints offer Fairley somewhere in the market of $8 million a year. Accounting for their draft picks and the rest of their free agents, that would leave the Saints about $8 million left to spend elsewhere.
Ultimately, I think that’s enough money to plug the holes that need filling on this roster.
The question, though, which I perhaps failed to fully understand in my earlier attempt, is that $8 million may be too cheap for Fairley.
Fairley is having himself quite a season. He’s on pace to finish with career highs in tackles and sacks. As of now, he has the eighth-most tackles of any DT, and the sixth-most sacks.
That puts him in elite company. He’s on pace to enter 2017 with the most sacks of any DT free agent. He may not be as valuable as fellow free agent Kawann Short, but he’s a close second.
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Top tier defensive tackles, unfortunately, break the bank. The five highest paid DTs make an average of $15 million a year. And while names like Gerald McCoy, Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Ndamukong Suh may seem a tier above Nick Fairley, the stats tell a different story.
Among that group, 2016 Fairley would rank second in sacks behind only McCoy, and second in tackles behind only Suh.
I’ll say it straight out, I’m nervous about signing Fairley to a big contract. The Saints still haven’t fully recovered from the Junior Galette fiasco. Not that Fairley is going to commit any egregious offenses, it just makes me, illogically, worry about what might happen if the team ties up that much money in a player we’ve only seen for a year.
But I have to calm down and remind myself: Fairley isn’t Galette. And while his stats may paint a prettier picture than his film sometimes does, he’s nowhere near the stat-padding, gameplan wreck that Galette was.
The Saints don’t have $15 million to spend on a single player this free agency. Fairley likely won’t garner such a huge contract though. Unlike these other DTs, Fairley is somewhat of a hot and cold player. When he does well, he shines. Hence his high sack number. But he can overcommit and get buried at times.
Still, don’t be surprised if he earns about $10 million. And while the Saints should try not to swallow such a big cap hit in 2017, there’s a simple if unpopular way to get it done. Loomis-nomics.
The Saints didn’t have much to cheer about in 2016. They could cheer for Nick Fairley, though. He’s a bright spot on an improving defense, and the Saints should do what they can to keep him around.