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Barry Hirstius

If Fairley Can’t Play, Saints Should Go After Sheldon Richardson

In case Saints fans might have missed it: the New York Jets are having a "fire sale".  

New York's "not-so-finest" NFL franchise in the AFC East has spent the spring and now the early part of summer "gutting" their roster, and some observers have even gone so far as to accuse Jets owner Woody Johnson of conspiring to purposely "tank" the team's upcoming 2017 season, in a concerted effort to give Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan an early jump-start on rebuilding the team.

In no short order, during this off-season alone the Jets have released talented veterans Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, David Harris, and are currently looking to trade WR Eric Decker.

However, the one player that presumably every other NFL team in the entire League would truly want to acquire, is the only player that Jets ownership seemingly wants to keep around.

And that player of course is former All-Pro defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

The Jets are thought to be in a real dilemma regarding Richardson at the moment, since he is set to become a free agent after the 2017 season.

Additionally, since the days of his earlier success upon entering the League as the Jets' #1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the 26-year old Richardson has become a "problem child" for the Jets organization, both on and off the field.

On the field, Richardson has seen a gradual decline in performance, though part of it was due to a position change -- when the team moved him from his starting defensive tackle spot, to an outside linebacker / edge rusher position for the 2016 season.

The results were nearly disastrous, with Richardson posting a career-low 1.5 sacks, and a handful of games where he finished with zero tackles.

New York Daily News Jets beat writer Manish Mehata says that it was the Jets’ logjam at defensive line which prompted head coach Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers to sometimes play the ultra-athletic Richardson in positions other than his natural "3-technique" defensive tackle spot (lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard).

Prior to last year playing solely as a "3-technique" DT, Richardson earned 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a 2014 1st team All-Pro selection and a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Additionally, there were some notable off-the-field incidents, first when he was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2015 season after he tested positive for marijuana; and then a 2016 incident in the state of Missouri (where Richardson played in the SEC back in college) in which he was arrested for resisting arrest and other traffic violations for allegedly drag racing on Interstate 64.

Richardson's vehicle was clocked on police radar three different times at speeds of 122, 135, and 143 miles per hour.

So far in 2017, Richardson hasn't exactly endeared himself to team ownership and management, with his harsh public criticism of former teammate Brandon Marshall (now with the Giants) during the team's OTA's last month.

Those comments have given new credence to the rumors which have been circulating for some time now, about the Jets potentially trading Richardson --- and it honestly isn’t all that hard to see why.

Mehta notes that the Jets are amenable to moving Richardson, which isn’t exactly sound logic given that they’d have to take only "pennies on the dollar" (a mid round pick in the 2018 Draft?) for a talented player on a roster that has been nearly stripped clean of its previous talent.

However, if the Jets are truly seeking to rebuild, then there are no better players to build around than Richardson himself and soon-to-be 23-year old teammate defensive end Leonard Williams.

So where -- and more importantly -- just how do the Saints "fit in" to all of this? 

That all depends, actually; on the current health status of Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Nick Fairley - New Orleans Saints

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

As we know by now: Fairley is still awaiting a 3rd opinion from a doctor, on the status of his heart condition; which depending on the final diagnosis, could force him to retire from the Saints and the sport of Pro Football at age 29.

If Fairley were to suddenly be forced to retire, it would likely put 2nd-year player and last year's top Draft pick Sheldon Rankins at the top of the depth chart, where he would play next to nose tackle Tyeler Davison in the base 4-3 defense.

It also means that last year's 4th Round pick DT David Onyemata will likely be the one player who as of right now, who would likely take on a bigger role in the substitution packages for the Saints pass rush, in Fairley's place.

However, one intriguing option available to the Saints would in fact be the possibility of a trade with the Jets for Richardson.

Since Richardson and Fairley are both natural "3-technique" defensive tackles, Richardson seemingly would be a perfect fit on the Saints defensive line, as my good friend and NFL Draft expert / football analyst John Sigler of Canal Street Chronicles noted yesterday on Twitter.

Given the fact that the Jets organization suddenly seems hell-bent at this point on "gutting" their roster, it's not at all far-fetched to think that the likelihood of Richardson being a trade option for New Orleans to 'replace' Fairley, is now feasible.

For the Saints, if such a deal is something that want to pursue; then presumably the next hurdle for them to clear would be the eventual price of draft compensation that the Jets are going to be seeking in return.

Allegedly New York was hoping to get a 1st-round pick for Richardson when they tried to trade him last season, but there's absolutely no way in hell that they could get a 1st-rounder for him now, not with a virtual "For Sale" sign hanging on the Jets organization's proverbial front door.

Right now, the general consensus of most observers and analysts League-wide would probably be that a 4th-round pick is about as much as they can hope for as of this moment.

Would Jets GM Mike Maccagnan allow Richardson to leave "Gang Green Nation" for a 4th-rounder?

That would have been laughable a year ago, but no one is laughing inside of Jets team headquarters right now.

If anything, they're being laughed at.

Photo taken from Twitter

Some in the National Media are already saying that a 2-14 or 1-15 season for the Jets in 2017 isn't out of the realm of possibility, given the roster turnover this off-season.

As it is, New York has a near overflowing handful of top-caliber D-Linemen still remaining on their current roster, with Richardson, Leonard Williams, and veteran nose tackle Muhammad Wilkerson among those at the position.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

There's simply just no way that the Jets are planning to keep all three, making it very likely that someone is going to be shopped around to the highest bidder at some point.

When you consider that Wilkerson landed a new contract recently and that Williams is one of the rising young defensive stars in the League right now, Richardson by all accounts appears to be the "odd man out".

If the Jets eventually decide that no one's offer is quite good enough to make Richardson pack his bags and head to another destination, then they could just simply allow Richardson to play out the 2017 season --- and then let him walk as a free agent next year, with the hope that they'd at least get a compensatory pick for him in 2019.

Which means that they'd also probably consider giving him up in a trade this year in exchange for as high of a pick that they can possibly get, to use towards their roster rebuild immediately beginning with next year's 2018 Draft.

If you're the Saints and it's been determined that Fairley's career has to be shut down for good, then a pursuit of Richardson makes sense.

Nick Failey - Saints DT

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it's true that he has some character flaws to be sure, and with the Junior Galette saga still fresh in their minds, Saints management could easily be forgiven from wanting to shy away from such potential shenanigans in the future.

However, lest we all forget: the Saints had similar character concerns about Fairley before signing him last year in 2016 Free Agency, and Fairley showed everyone that he had learned from his mistakes and ended up having a solid first year for New Orleans.

For Richardson, his talent is undeniable despite the recent drop in numbers.

The Jets are already aware that Richardson's best years thus far have come when he's lined up inside at the "3-technique", and if they decide to hold on to him, have already said that the plan is to move him back inside to his original position.

Which is why you can absolutely believe that if any type of a deal is worked out by the Saints and Jets to send him to New Orleans, he'd be coming to play that very same position on the Saints D-Line --- a Saints D-Line that in the very near future, could be missing Nick Fairley for good.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

If Richardson can be had for a 4th Round pick, you go ahead and do it --- and then after his contract year is up, you negotiate a long-term deal.

And if one can't be reached?

Then essentially you've "rented" Richardson for a year, during a season in which you can only hope is one that ends with a deep Playoff run, until Fairley's eventual 'replacement' (if Richardson isn't the one) can be found.

Oh -- and by the way:

During a 2017 season that some observers are saying will be a "make or break" season for the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era in New Orleans.

Which makes this idea plausible:

If Nick Fairley can't play, the Saints should go after Sheldon Richardson.

And do it quick......

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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