METAIRIE, La. -- Nick Fairley’s comeback tour has taken him from Detroit to St. Louis to New Orleans over the past three seasons.
But in the process, his career is finally on a positive trajectory.
“I tell ya, he’s been a pleasant surprise,” New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said of the former first-round pick, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal.
Fairley, 28, basically signed a one-year “prove it again” deal with the Saints after he drew praise for how well he performed on his one-year “prove it” deal with the Rams last year.
Fairley battled injuries and inconsistent performance in his early years in Detroit, facing questions about his weight and his motivation. But he started to turn things around during his final season with the Lions, when he first hired a personal chef and started to really keep his weight down. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, but has said he has been under 290 in recent years.
“I think anytime you get a first-round draft choice that probably hasn’t had the success that he and we thought he would have, you want to know what the reasons why are,” Allen said of the Saints’ research into Fairley before they signed him. “But I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the way he’s come out here and worked. He’s gotten better in this offseason. I think as long as he buys in to what we’re selling, I think he’s gonna have some success.
“To this point, he’s been outstanding in that (attitude and work ethic) regard. I’m excited to see what he can do. He’s a very talented player. And I think he’ll play well for us.”
Fairley said earlier this offseason that he feels “great” at the weight he’s at and that he likes being in Allen’s system, which is similar to the one St. Louis ran last year under former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
One of the people the Saints consulted before signing Fairley was their new middle linebacker James Laurinaitis – who spent last year in St. Louis with him.
Fairley had only 29 tackles and 0.5 sacks with the Rams while playing a rotational backup role on their stacked defensive line. But he was lauded by scouting services for his disruption at the line.
“Definitely, when they asked me about him, I said Nick is a guy that I’ve loved playing with him last year,” Laurinaitis said. “He’s super-athletic for a D-tackle, gives great effort. I mean, there are some plays on screen plays last year, he’d burst out of that stack so fast, and you’d see him coming behind the ball carrier and you’d think, ‘I better get down,’ because this guy here is moving. Just a fun guy in the locker room, too, great teammate. And so I was pumped when we were able to get him here.
“I think really for him, it’s an opportunity for him to be more of an every-down guy again as opposed to being in a rotation. I had absolutely no problems with effort or commitment from him. That guy gave it his all every single game for us.”