Detroit Lions Other Dilemma: Does Nick Fairley Deserve a New Deal?


While the national and local media fall over themselves to bring us the next trivial, frankly uninteresting update on where Ndamukong Suh will be playing football next season, Detroit Lions fans remain cognizant of the “other” almighty dilemma facing their defensive tackle corps this off-season: Nick Fairley‘s contractual situation.

Forerunning as a sideshow to Suh’s main event, the fact that Fairley’s an impending unrestricted freeagent has largely been glossed over. Indeed, most who reference the issues Jim Caldwell’s club face in this position will simply lump Fairley in with C.J. Mosley, or refer to them as a group. All the attention is on Suh; reports come in, however insignificant, and the mood changes. The player has been crystal clear throughout the season on information about his future: He and his agent will weigh it up, and when a decision is made, we’ll be the first to know (well, Adam Schefter will be, then us).

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Fairley, on the other hand, has had to reveal very little because he’s largely been ignored. No one asking the questions seems to care, or at the very least wishes to focus on, the status of Fairley heading into the 2015 season. Perhaps some have decided that should Detroit lose Suh, Fairley stands the paradisal consolation prize: a guaranteed retention for the franchise should they be unable to tempt Suh back with a monstrous contract. Having both was incredible, but at least you get to keep at least one, right?

But it’s not that simple, and most Lions fans will admit that Fairley’s career in Detroit can be described, at its most modest, as streaky. The maddeningly inconsistent, boom-or-bust from one series to another defensive tackle has caused fans, coaches and the front office headaches since being drafted from Auburn 13th overall in 2011.

His one-man destruction of Matt Forte‘s two-point conversion attempt in 2013, icing a 21-19 game in favor of Detroit at Soldier Field, should be the type of play that defines him. It should be the standard set; the benchmark for everything Fairley, a 300-pound monster who can scythe through blocks with consummate ease, is measured.

But it’s not, and Lions fans have become exceptionally wary of a player who stands mightily inconsistent and extremely hard to place continued faith in.

Weight issues have dominated his career in Detroit. That’s partially a stain on the frankly reckless reign of Jim Schwartz, who showed little interest or little ability in keeping the lineman in check, but it’s a slight on the player, too, for slipping and losing his shape.

A personal chef this year helped Fairley slim down immensely and he looked in fine fettle, but actions in a contract year are not to be thought of as the norm; players understandably play and perform at a maximal level when money is on the line.

Perhaps most frustrating is the lack of consistent impact on the field, a factor that ties all pre-conceived concerns together and validates them from a football perspective. Fairley should be dominant, and he should be bossing games, but less than 50 percent of the time he’s not—and he plays alongside Suh!

There’s no doubt Fairley is a true talent and one of the better players in his position, but his track record gives Detroit a huge dilemma. He’s not necessarily an automatic consolation prize should the franchise lose Suh; it’s not a simple, linear equation in this respect.

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