NFL Rumors: New Orleans Saints Are Favorites To Sign Nick Fairley After New England Bows Out, Team Keeps TE Josh Hill By Matching Offer Sheet

The New Orleans Saints are reportedly the leaders to sign unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley played last season with the St. Louis Rams, registering 29 tackles and 0.5 sacks . Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets are also reportedly interested in the 6-foot-4, 308 pounder.

The New Orleans Saints have been busy the past 24 hours, and now rumors abound that the team are the favorites for the services of unrestricted free agent Nick Fairley with the New England Patriots bowing out according to the NFL’s Ian Rapoport.

Rapoport added that there is no news that a deal is in place between the Saints and Fairley. However, the Patriots are the only other team that the 28-year old has visited besides New Orleans. According to ESPN, Fairley visited with New England during the NFL meetings this week in Boca Raton.

The Patriots’ interest in the 6-foot-4, 308-pound defensive tackle was a result of them losing free agents Akiem Hicks to the Chicago Bears and Sealver Siliga to the Seattle Seahawks. But New England signed former Washington Redskin Frank Kearse on Wednesday to a one-year pact.

Mike Triplett of ESPN is reporting that Saints running back Mark Ingram and safety Kenny Vaccaro are publicly campaigning for Fairley to join them in New Orleans. Ingram, who went to Alabama, went up against Fairley when his Crimson Tide met their arch-rivals, the Auburn Tigers.

Serving as a rotational player the past couple of seasons, Fairley has turned his career around after struggling as starter in his first few seasons with the Detroit Lions. The former first-round pick signed a one-year contract with the St. Louis Rams last offseason, registering 29 tackles and 0.5 sacks while playing on less than 40 percent of the team’s snaps. Despite not seeing the field that much, Fairley still rated as a top-25 interior defender per Pro Football Focus.

Fairley is very good at getting after the quarterback and can be very disruptive when he is healthy. He collected 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 32 QB hits from 2012-13 for the Lions. For his career, Fairley has 14.0 sacks and 127 tackles in 61 games.

New Orleans may have competition for Fairley’s services, as he said he was talking to the Rams. Philadelphia and the New York Jets are also believed to be interested in Fairley.

New Orleans, which is desperately in need of quality defensive linemen, reportedly were interested in free agent defensive end Jason Hatcher last week. Hatcher, 33, had two sacks and 20 tackles in 15 games a season ago with the Washington Redskins. He has recorded 250 tackles and 34.5 sacks in 147 games for his career.

The Saints ranked last in points surrendered last year, giving up 29.8 points a game, and 31st in total defense. Their woeful defense allowed an NFL-record 45 touchdown passes and permitted opposing quarterbacks to accumulate a combined rating of 116.1. A big reason that quarterbacks had such success is that New Orleans struggled getting pressure on quarterbacks, as the Saints racked up just 32 sacks – which ranked 23rd in the league.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan led New Orleans with 10 sacks last year, but no other player had more than five. Jordan, 26, has registered 30 of his 39 career sacks in the last three years.

Overall, New Orleans has done a pretty good job addressing its defensive woes this offseason. The Saints recently added veteran linebackers James Lauranaitis and Craig Robertson. Laurantis recorded 109 tackles, an interception, a sack, and a forced fumble last season with St. Louis, while Robertson amassed 59 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception in 12 appearances with Cleveland. Both players’ deals are for three-years.

In addition, New Orleans matched the Chicago Bears’ offer sheet for tight end Josh Hill today. Hill’s deal is for three-years, $7.5 million with $3.25 million in guaranteed money. The 25-year old caught a career-high 16 passes this season for 176 yards along with five touchdowns. He will compete with newly signed No. 1 tight end Coby Fleener and Michael Hoomanawanui for playing time.

If the Saints do end up officially landing Fairley, the team will have to make at least one cap-clearing move to accommodate the signing, as they are over the salary cap based on spotrac projections.

[Photo by Associated Press’ Tom Gannam]