The middle of the New Orleans Saints defensive line seemed set. You’ve got a young, hungry Sheldon Rankins headed into the second of a four-year contract on one side. The other side belongs to Nick Fairley, who just signed a four-year extension to his 2016 contract. Because the two are so talented, young and contractually locked up, there were no worries about those pieces of the defense.
Nick Fairley Dealing With Heart Condition
Then, the unfortunate news hits.
Media outlets broke the news that Fairley has a heart condition, and it could be career-threatening. It goes without saying that the biggest concern for Fairley is to make sure his long-term health is at the forefront of any decision going forward. And while that concern is also paramount for the New Orleans Saints organization, fellow teammates and level-headed fans alike, the worst-case scenario would influence how the 2017 Saints line up on Sundays going forward. Putting genuine concern aside, and focusing on what happens between the hash marks, let’s look at what may happen should Fairley decide that it makes more sense for him to retire and maintain a good life post-NFL.
Looking Back at the Draft
With Fairley out, things get greatly impacted on the defensive line. Aside from missing a starter who posted 6.5 sacks in his 2016 campaign, Fairley also generated a great chemistry with fellow lineman Sheldon Rankins and Cam Jordan. Heading into the off-season of 2017, despite Fairley signing his extension prior to the draft, pass rush was the primary focus on the Saints wish list.
The Saints went with value at every opportunity during the draft. They had more than one need, so taking the best talent available made the most sense for the Saints long-term plans. That approach, however, came at a cost. The Saints passed on the higher profile choices at the position and didn’t end up drafting a defensive lineman until their sixth selection (103rd overall) in Trey Hendrickson.
Next Man Up
If Fairley were to hang up his cleats, it leaves a void on that defensive line. Figuring Alex Okafor starts opposite Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins takes one of those interior spots, Dennis Allen’s 4-3 defense is missing a defensive tackle. Between this starter and the defensive end spot that Okafor assumedly will occupy, it may be a more situational defense that we’ve seen in years past. Down and distance may have the defensive line shuffling in a different four very frequently in 2017.
Tyeler Davison seems to be the heir apparent to Fairley. He gained some invaluable experience last season and is very young with a great motor. Figuring Davison to be the next in line is the chalk pick. But like the news about Fairley itself, things can look different in a hurry. With the rosters reducing to 53-men by September 3rd, there may be a candidate in the crop of cuts that finds his way to the Big Easy.
Selfishly, we would all love to receive news that Nick Fairley’s heart condition is treatable and he can go on playing the game he loves. After all, it’s a condition he’s had since his college days and he has been playing through it for the past six seasons. Fingers all over the New Orleans area are crossed that Fairley will be starting his seventh season on Monday Night Football, September 11, 2017 in Minnesota.