The Detroit Lions‘ Martin Mayhew announced Monday that the team plans to not pick up the fifth-year option of defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a player who notoriously under-produced after being a high first round pick in 2011. This decision is exactly the kind of bold move that the Lions need to make to jump out of their forever-long rut.
First of all, I’m not saying that refusing to pick up an option on Fairley itself is the key decision that will change everything for the Lions, but it’s the mentality. Players should get paid handsomely if they do well, get paid average if they play average, and get sacked if they stink. That’s how it works in every other job in the world.
Mayhew explicitly said he is doing this as a motivation tactic. That’s great, but it should not be headline news for an NFL team. This should be common practice. A player should only get paid well if they do well, not if the agent and player convince the team that they will do well someday down the road.
The worry that some folks have is that Fairley will do well and then seek higher pay through free agency, and either leave the team or leverage the Lions into paying him more money. That’s fine! That’s the way it should work. If the Lions can’t afford Fairley because he’s just too awesome of a player, and some other team wants to snag him, then that to me is better than spending the money outright on a player who is not worth the dough.
If the Lions do eventually lose Fairley, then at least it’s because of his own merit and pursuit of excellence, not because he’s just a waste of space and money and the Lions had to finally let him go after three or four more years of just being a large person wearing a helmet.
The complications involving Ndamkukong Suh are noted, and yes, there’s the risk that they both could walk at some point. However, the Lions seem more than confident that they’ll be able to work out a deal with Suh, and there’s still defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who has already shown great potential as a pass rusher.
So, why not see what Fairley can do? If he somehow outgrows the Lions, then good for him, but he’s nowhere near worth the amount of money he would likely get paid right now. It was a good move by Mayhew, and hopefully it translates into motivated play by Fairley in 2014.