“Through the surgery she was calling me four times a day to see how I was doing,” Fairley told detroitlions.com after OTA practice Monday. “She called me one day and she was like, ‘Nick, how are you feeling? What is your weight at?’
“I told her what it was and she told me to send her a picture. I texted her and the first thing she said was, ‘You look like you were back in Auburn and you know how that went.’”
Fairley played at 295 pounds his final year at Auburn in 2010 and finished that championship season with 60 tackles (24 for loss), 11.5 sacks and forced two fumbles.
He parlayed that performance into a first-round selection by the Detroit Lions (No. 13 overall) the following draft.
Fairley, however, has never quite lived up to those number since joining the NFL.
He’s dealt with injury and weight issues, which has led to mostly inconsistent play. No one denies how supremely talented he is, the question has always been how motivated?
Fairley says the procedure he underwent will allow him to sleep better, give him more energy to stay in shape and hopefully help him to live up to those huge expectations the Lions placed on him in 2011 as their first-round pick.
“The surgery I had, they do a little cutting and really just try to open things up,” Fairley said. “How it was explained to me is that when you fall asleep your tongue falls back. I already had a narrow (airway), so I needed it to open up and that’s what the whole deal was.”
Is it working?
“My girlfriend tells me I don’t snore as much,” Fairley said with a laugh. “I feel more energized when I get up. Over my recovery time I would get up and walk my dog and I was like, ‘man, I feel a little better. I’m not as tired and yawning as much.’”
Fairley has millions of reasons to play better in 2014. As a way to nudge him into more consistent play, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew declined to pick up the fifth year of Fairley’s rookie contract.
“He’s a phenomenal talent,” Mayhew said at the NFL Annual Meetings. “This guy can be whatever he wants to be. That’s probably why I’m on him so hard.
“It’s an opportunity for him to go out and perform his best this offseason, perform his best during the season and hopefully it helps him become the best player he can possibly be.”
The fifth year would have paid Fairley $5.5 million in 2015. Instead, he can potentially be a free agent after this season. A big season this year could potentially land him much more.
“(Mayhew) called and I was in Houston (working out) so I was able to sit back with my agent that same night. We had dinner and we talked about it and we think its good for both sides,” Fairley said.
“It’s going to get me back into another contract earlier and it motivated me to go out there and do my thing and play a lot more consistent ball. I’m really motivated. I can’t wait to keep this weight off me and get back out there and get things rolling.”
Fairley has dropped 27 pounds this offseason and looks completely different than in years past. The difference is actually quite noticeable standing next to him.
He was back doing individual drills during OTA practice Monday, but still isn’t cleared for 100 percent participation. He’s waiting for some of the swelling to subside, but expects to be full go by training camp.
“I was real happy to get back out there today with the guys,” Fairley said of Monday’s practice.
He’s coming off his best season as a professional in 2013, when he recorded 35 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a safety and a touchdown in 15 games, earning a Pro Bowl alternate nod for the effort.
But even Fairley admits that’s not good enough, not for a player as physically gifted as he is. He wants to put up the kind of numbers he did at Auburn.
He’s now in the same kind of shape he was in at Auburn. Will the consistent production follow suit?