For the first time under the new collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams will have to decide whether or not to exercise fifth-year contract options for first-round draft picks from the 2011 draft, who are entering their fourth year.
For the Detroit Lions, that means a decision has to be made on Nick Fairley, who was the 13th overall pick in 2011.
Over the course of his first three seasons, Fairley has been both marvelous and inconsistent at times.
"He could play more consistently," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said at the Senior Bowl. "I mean, he's got to mature a little bit as a professional, I think. I think that'd be a big step in him playing more consistently."
Fairley dropped to the Lions in 2011 due to questions about his work ethic coming out of Auburn. Fairley could certainly benefit from being a more consistent figure in the team’s offseason training program.
Asked Monday if Fairley's playing weight of nearly 320 pounds this past season was an issue, Mayhew said, "I wouldn't say his weight is too high."
Mayhew did say, however, Fairley could "re-position" some of that weight.
Fairley earned a Pro Bowl alternate nod this year after recording 36 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recoveries, a safety and a touchdown. The fact that Mayhew can talk about inconsistencies, after a pretty good statistical season, says a lot about Fairley's potential in the eyes of the Lions.
If the Lions do choose to exercise his fifth-year, Fairley's salary would be guaranteed in 2015 at an average of the fourth through 25th-highest salaries in the NFL at the defensive tackle position.