Saints release Nick Fairley as contract remains unresolved

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints officially released defensive tackle Nick Fairley on Monday after he spent last season on the reserve/non-football illness list because of a heart condition.

It’s unclear if Fairley, who turned 30 last month, has any intention of trying to play again. He has not spoken publicly since the heart concerns came to light last spring, and he was not cleared to play after visiting with multiple specialists.

Fairley’s contract status also remains unclear. Both sides filed grievances last year to try to recover money, since he signed a four-year contract worth between $28 million and $30 million (including an $8 million signing bonus) before he was ruled out. At issue is whether Fairley officially passed his physical, since the heart issue was red-flagged during his initial physical but did not fully come to light until follow-up testing.

As of last week, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said he did not know when those grievances would be decided.

The Saints released Fairley two days before his $4.25 million salary and $750,000 roster bonus would have become fully guaranteed. That $5 million was guaranteed for injury only at the time Fairley signed his deal.

If the Saints are deemed responsible for the full $8 million signing bonus, they will still be charged at least $6 million in dead money against their salary cap. If Fairley is required to pay back the entire signing bonus, the Saints could actually have money added back on to their cap. Or a decision could be reached somewhere in between.

Fairley was originally diagnosed with an enlarged heart before he joined the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2011, which Saints coach Sean Payton said last year is not all that uncommon. And Fairley passed physicals with the Lions, Rams and Saints during his first six NFL seasons before the red flag popped up during his most recent physical.

Follow-up testing with multiple doctors then determined that Fairley’s condition had either worsened or was more serious than previously believed.

Fairley had his career-best season in his debut with the Saints in 2016, with 6.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.

The Saints also released veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel on Monday, dropping their roster to 88 players and clearing room for them to sign receiver Josh Huff and linebacker Jayrone Elliott to reserve/futures contracts. The Saints’ deals with Huff and Elliott were disapproved by the NFL last week because the team was over the 90-man roster limit.