Mark Ingram, Kenny Vaccaro urge Nick Fairley to join Saints

Some of the New Orleans Saints’ top players have been campaigning for free-agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley to sign with the Saints.

Even Mark Ingram, who went to Alabama, is urging the former Auburn star to team up with him in New Orleans.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro also got in on the recruiting pitch:

Fairley visited the Saints last week and remains a strong candidate to join the team, despite interest from the New England Patriots, among other teams.

Fairley, 28, is a disruptive three-technique tackle -- which was one of two positions that Saints coach Sean Payton listed as a “must” this week during the NFL owners meetings.

The 13th pick in the 2011 draft, Fairley remains a risk-reward proposition since he has battled inconsistency, injuries and weight issues during his five-year career with the Detroit Lions and the Rams. But he has been praised for keeping his weight down over the past two years. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds but said last year he was down to 281.

Fairley signed a one-year “prove it” deal in St. Louis last year. And though he had only one half-sack as a rotational backup in the Rams’ stacked defensive line, he was praised for his effective play. The scouting service Pro Football Focus was particularly high on him. Fairley has 14 career sacks in five years.

In order to sign Fairley, the Saints will need to first carve out more salary-cap space. They are down to less than $300,000 in cap space after linebacker James Laurinaitis’ contract officially hit the books on Thursday. The Saints also need to make room for recent deals with linebacker Craig Robertson and safety Jamarca Sanford that have yet to be processed. They also announced Friday that they will retain restricted free-agent tight end Josh Hill by matching the Chicago Bears’ three-year offer to Hill.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan reported that Hill's deal is worth up to $7.5 million over three years, with $3.25 million guaranteed. But it's unclear whether that will increase or decrease Hill's current cap figure. He was already on the books at $1.67 million, which was the amount of the one-year qualifying offer New Orleans made to him earlier this month.