NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints continue to play in the free-agency waters, despite not having much cap space to do so. Nevertheless, they’ve added another big defensive piece.
As expected, the Saints have signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley to a one-year deal, the team announced Monday morning.
The deal is reportedly for $3 million, and, with incentives, could balloon to as much as $5 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Saints still must clear some cap space in order to process Fairley’s contract, as well as several others, according to the NFLPA salary cap database, which is updated daily, as contracts are processed. As of Monday morning, the report indicates the Saints have just $273,215 of cap space, the same figure it showed before the team announced it had decided to match the Bears three-year, $9.75 million deal for tight end Josh Hill.
Fairley, 28, signed a one-year deal with St. Louis last season after spending the first four years of his career in Detroit. As was the case last year, Fairley’s deal with the Saints is likely an incentive-laden “prove-it deal.” For the second time in as many years, the market for Fairley was soft. Fairley visited New Orleans two weeks ago, after which he traveled to New England, where he met with the Patriots brass. However, last week, the NFL reported the Patriots “will be out” of the running, leaving New Orleans as the most likely landing spot. Fairley also reportedly had offers from Houston and Philadelphia.
Fairley, the 11th overall pick out of Auburn in 2011, has seen his production drop off significantly since is two best seasons in 2012 and 2013, when he totaled 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 32 QB hits. Many attribute his drop-off to a severe season-ending knee injury he suffered halfway through the 2014 season.
He played only sparingly for St. Louis last season. In 15 games, he had just 18 tackles and half a sack. Frankly, he wasn’t the kind of disruptive force he had been in Detroit during the first three years of his career.
Obviously, the Saints are hoping Fairley is healthy and well rested after playing just 427 snaps last season.
In an effort to bolster their struggling defense, the Saints have already signed linebackers James Laurinaitis, Nate Stupar and Craig Robinson. Head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have said repeatedly this offseason the club’s top priority is to fix a defense that has been near the bottom of nearly every statistical category in three of the last four seasons.
Payton and Loomis have also said they’ll continue to address the defensive front seven in the draft, as they believe it contains one of the deepest crops of players at those positions in recent memory.
The NFL was first to report Fairley’s signing early Thursday morning.