Fairley, 29, has consulted with at least three specialists this offseason -- at least one of whom suggested he should no longer play football, according to Saints coach Sean Payton.
Payton recently said that both Fairley and the team were waiting on the results of a third opinion. It's unclear what those results were. But ultimately, the Saints did not want to risk putting Fairley on the field this season.
Neither the Saints nor Fairley nor his representatives have commented on the decision. It's unclear if Fairley agrees with the Saints' decision to place him on the non-football injury list or if he intends to continue trying to play.
Either way, there will almost certainly be some sort of contract dispute, seeing as Fairley signed with the Saints in March a four-year contract worth between $28 million and 30 million, including an $8 million signing bonus and a total of $14 million in guarantees.
Fairley was diagnosed with an enlarged heart before he joined the NFL as a first-round draft pick in 2011, which Payton said is not all that uncommon. Fairley has played for three teams over six NFL seasons, passing physicals with all of them.
However, Payton explained that Fairley's condition has apparently worsened or become more concerning this year.
The Saints' doctors recommended that Fairley see a specialist after he underwent his physical in March. He still passed his physical and signed the new contract.
Under NFL rules, the Saints are not required to pay Fairley his $1 million base salary this year because his injury was not related to football. It remains unclear if they will be required to pay all of his signing bonus and/or guarantees.
It's possible that the two sides could negotiate a settlement if Fairley wants to be released and pursue playing for another team, though it's unknown if Fairley will consider that.
Fairley's career got off to a turbulent start with the Detroit Lions from 2011 to 2014 because of injuries and inconsistent play. But the former Auburn standout improved the past two seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Saints, and he just had the best season of his career in New Orleans in 2016, with a career-high 6.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.
The Saints will likely lean even more heavily on their 2016 first-round draft choice, Sheldon Rankins, who is the same type of disruptive defensive tackle. Fairley will definitely be missed on a defense that has been struggling to climb out of the NFL's cellar for the past two-plus years.