Indianapolis — Lions general manager Martin Mayhew confirmed Wednesday what’s long been assumed about Nick Fairley.
Whether the free-agent defensive tackle returns to Detroit in 2015 likely has a lot to do with the team’s negotiations with fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
“We have not,” Mayhew said when asked if the Lions made a decision on whether to re-sign Fairley. “I think that I’ll meet with his agent down here. We’ll discuss Nick’s situation, and there are a lot of guys like that in free agency right now we’re in dialogue about all those guys. Really it’s a matter of setting some priorities and then understanding some tradeoffs that have to happen. When certain things happen, certain other things don’t happen and vice versa.”
If the Lions don’t re-sign Suh, bringing back Fairley could become a priority because of the lack of depth at the position. Currently, the Lions only have one defensive tackle signed for next season — 2014 fifth-round pick Caraun Reid.
Suh is an All-Pro, Fairley has flashed Pro Bowl potential, C.J. Mosley is a capable starter and Andre Fluellen is a fine rotational player. But all four are free agents.
The Lions declined the fifth-year option on Fairley’s rookie contract that would’ve kept him in Detroit in 2015 for $5.5 million. The decision was a motivational ploy to help Fairley stay in shape and become the consistent player they expected when they drafted him in the first round in 2011.
The plan backfired when Fairley gained weight in training camp and briefly lost his starting job. After that, Fairley slimmed down, took back his starting job before the season began and played well in the first seven-plus games. But a right knee injury in Week 8 cost him the rest of the season and likely some value on the open market.
Mayhew said he could see a scenario where the Lions have both Suh and Fairley in 2015, but also could see neither staying in Detroit. If the Lions sign Suh, though, they might not be able to afford to keep the man who’s played by his side for much of the past four seasons.