Saints Coach Sean Payton said at least one specialist had recommended that the 29-year-old Fairley — a former Auburn star and a 2011 first-round draft pick by Detroit — give up football. Payton had also mentioned that he wanted to be sure Fairley would not return unless he was confident enough in his health to play to his full potential.
“The most important thing right now in our mind is his well-being,” Payton said this month, when Fairley’s status for this season was still in doubt.
“To play this game, there’s a little bit of mental toughness involved, obviously. I want to make sure, if in fact he’s playing it, again that he’s playing with full confidence that he’s healthy to play and that nothing severe would come of him playing.”
The Saints’ move Monday sidelined Fairley for only 2017; his future beyond that remains unclear. He has been playing his whole N.F.L. career with an enlarged heart, which can be caused by health problems of varying severity.
In addition to his career-high sacks last season, Fairley was credited with nine tackles for losses and 22 quarterback hits.
That was the kind of production expected of him when he turned pro after helping Auburn’s 2010 squad win a national title.
Fairley sometimes struggled to meet expectations in his first five pro seasons. The Lions let him go after four seasons, and he lasted only one season with the Rams.
In his career, Fairley has played in 77 regular-season games, recording 170 solo or assisted tackles — including one safety — and 20 ½ sacks.
New Orleans’s top remaining defensive linemen include Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata. Rankins was New Orleans’s top draft choice in 2016, and Onyemata was selected later in that same draft. Davison was a fifth-rounder in 2015.
During minicamp this month, the Saints also added the veteran defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, who started 10 games for Seattle in 2016.