For a 2nd straight week of the New Orleans Saints' organized team activities (better known as OTA's, the NFL-approved series of team practices prior to Training Camp and the Pre-Season), there's been one player who hasn't been present or seen practicing with the team: veteran DT Nick Fairley --- who just re-signed with the Saints a few months ago in Free Agency after accepting a 4 year, $28 million dollar contract with $14 million of it guaranteed along with a $8 million signing bonus.
The team hasn't commented on Fairley's absence, though it's assumed (at least for the moment) by most of the local media who are assigned to cover the team that Fairley likely has been given approved time off by the coaching staff for reasons that have not yet been disclosed.
As some Saints fans are well-known to do, they've already began to panic a bit about Fairley's 'disappearance'; and the speculation as to why he hasn't been present for 2 straight weeks has run the gamut anywhere from personal reasons to much more sinister possibilities such as substance abuse.
@nick_underhill where is Nick Fairley?!
— Who Dat Fitz (@WhoDatFitz) June 2, 2017
I have no idea
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) June 2, 2017
But here's what those segment of Saints fans need to remember about OTA's: they are considered "voluntary".
Although it's usually frowned upon by the coaching staff to not show up, there's not a requirement in a player's contract that says they absolutely have to participate.
However that said, it would probably be a show of "good faith" by Fairley to show up; especially given that he just he just received a rather large bump in pay.
The Saints will wrap up OTAs with four straight days of practice June 5-8, and then hold a three-day mandatory team Mini-Camp on June 13-15, with at least one of the practices open for the general public to attend.
If by chance Fairley isn't present at Mini-Camp, then -- and only then -- should fans be concerned by Fairley's absence.
But, let's go ahead and say this much: the concerns from some Saints fans about Fairley's absence are in fact legitimate.
There's always been an element of "danger" surrounding the 29-year old Fairley; as he developed a reputation of "taking off" plays both in college at Auburn, and then again after immediately establishing himself as a top young talent with the Detroit Lions, who took him with their top pick (#13 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Perhaps that's why that segment of Saints fans remain worried, since they fear that Fairley could again have a possible "drop-off" in performance after getting paid that new contract a few months ago.
Looking back, it was in Detroit after he had tallied 11.5 sacks combined between the 2012 and 2013 seasons alongside Ndamukong Suh on the feared Lions defensive line, that his production dropped off to just 14 tackles and one sack in his final year in the Motor City.
Detroit decided then to allow Fairley to "walk away" in 2015 Free Agency, which led him to sign a one-year contract with the then-St. Louis (and now Los Angeles) Rams , where he served as a back-up on the best defensive line in Pro Football (behind All-Pro Aaron Donald) and didn't earn any starts.
Fairley had just 29 tackles and a half of a sack with the Rams, which was what then allowed the Saints to sign him at a bargain price last year in 2016 Free Agency.
Besides that perceived lack of effort at times, there's also his legal issues and notable run-ins with the law previously, that are always in the back of everyone's mind.
Since entering the NFL, Fairley has had a number of well-documented incidents with law enforcement authorities. On April 3, 2012, Fairley was arrested in Mobile, Alabama for marijuana possession. The charges were then subsequently dismissed in December 2012.
Then just a month and a half later on May 27, 2012, Fairley was arrested once again, this time by Alabama State Troopers for driving under the influence and attempting to elude capture and arrest by police. He was also ticketed for reckless driving, having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle and no proof of insurance.
Fairley has managed to stay out of legal trouble since that time however, and by all accounts those incidents were considered to be a part of his maturation process (a.k.a., "growing up" and becoming a responsible adult) as is normally the case with young people in their 20's.
So given that, it can only be hoped that the reason for Fairley's absence --- whatever it may be --- aren't due to any possible legal ramifications.
Fairley turned in a top-notch season for New Orleans last year, appearing in all 16 games and recording 6.5 sacks, 43 total tackles (14 assisted); along with 22 QB "hits" and 12 QB "pressures". That performance earned him his new contract, the same contract that unless we're told otherwise, will be the one he's expected to earn through the 2020 season.
The bottom line is that there is no cause for alarm among Saints fans, until team officials tell us otherwise.
Unless that happens, then we can only assume that we will see Fairley lined up as his defensive tackle spot, on season-opening Monday Night against the Vikings in Minneapolis.
As long as he's on the field September 11th in Minneapolis, I wouldn't sweat it
— Barry Hirstius (@BarryHirstius) June 2, 2017
Hopefully, this situation -- whatever it may or may not be -- doesn't become the Saints' version of "Where's Waldo", with a 6-foot-4, 291 defensive tackle playing the "missing" character.
Whether or not the Saints defense would be able to overcome a loss like that, would certainly be something that both they and their passionate Who Dat Nation fan-base, don't want to even think about......