Mayhew said from the beginning when he chose not to pick up Fairley’s fifth-year option that this was going to be a motivational push for the talented defensive tackle. He hoped by not having anything guaranteed after this season, Fairley would turn into the player the Lions expected when they drafted him in 2011.
It also came with a risk – that Fairley would turn into the player the Lions wanted and then they wouldn’t be able to afford him when free agency came calling after this season. It would appear, judging from the Detroit Free Press story Saturday, that Fairley is at least going to attempt to do that.
The newspaper said he is down to 295 pounds, which will likely make him faster and able to have a quicker first step against interior linemen. He also told the paper he is going to keep with his diet, and that is going to be key for any Fairley consistency on the field this fall.
Remember, this is a player who has as much natural ability – if not more – than Ndamukong Suh, who the Lions are trying to re-sign this offseason as he enters the final season of his contract. If he transforms into the always-there player Detroit needs, it could finally give the Lions what they were desiring when they drafted Suh and Fairley in back-to-back seasons at the start of the decade.
They built a 4-3 system around the strength and potential unblockable nature of the defensive line for former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. But it never truly worked under Cunningham because of the lack of consistency from Fairley, among other things.
If Fairley is faster and less blockable, it might force teams to pick between Suh, Fairley and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah as to who to double. This should lead to more rush lanes for all three of those linemen along with anyone else new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is going to send at opposing quarterbacks.
If it works and if Fairley stays both healthy, in shape and motivated, it could give Austin the aggressive, attacking defense his players have boasted about over the past few weeks.