ORLANDO -- There is no question how immensely talented Lions defensive tackle
Some within the Detroit Lions organization even feel his ceiling is higher than fellow Pro Bowl defensive tackle
Talent has never been the issue with Fairley. How motivated he is to be great is the issue.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew wants to see a motivated Fairley in 2014. To that end, the team will not pick up the fifth-year option of his rookie deal for 2015 at a price of $5.5 million.
The Lions have until May 3 to pick up the option, but Mayhew told beat reporters at the NFL Annual Meetings on Monday they do not plan to do so.
So, Fairley is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season if a new long-term deal isn’t struck before the league year in 2015.
Fairley has been widely inconsistent over his first three years in the league since the Lions chose him No. 13 overall in 2011. He played in only 10 games his rookie season because of injury and missed three more in 2012 with injuries.
He’s coming off his best season in 2013, however, where 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 showing.
But the Lions think there's more in him. Much more, in fact.
“He’s a phenomenal talent,” Mayhew said. “This guy can be whatever he wants to be. That’s probably why I’m on him so hard.
“If you look at him vs. Suh, he probably has better lateral quickness than Ndamukong does, he’s probably slightly a better athlete and definitely runs better in a straight line than Ndamukong. Ndamukong is a more powerful guy and he performs more consistent week in and week out.”
The biggest difference between the two, according to Mayhew, is everything that Suh does in the offseason and during the week in-season is done in an effort to be great. Mayhew can’t say the same thing about Fairley right now.
“I can tell you right now, wherever (Suh) is right now, he’s doing something to make him better either from a football standpoint or a business standpoint for next season,” Mayhew said. “That’s what he’s doing as we speak right now. That’s what the difference right now is between the two guys.”
The Lions are hoping by not picking up the fifth year of Fairley’s option, he’ll be motivated this offseason and they’ll see the very best of him in 2014 as a free agent to be.
“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 option) is $5.5 million dollars and I have to ask myself is he a $5.5 million player? There’s some performances where he is. There’s some performances where he’s not.
“I think it’s going to be an incentive for him to have an outstanding offseason and an outstanding season. That’s what I want more than anything else.”
The move places an uncertain future in Detroit for two of the most talented defensive tackles in the league. By most accounts, Suh and Fairley are the most talented defensive-tackle tandem in the league.
The Lions are currently trying to work out a long-term extension with Suh, who can also become a free agent after this season. Team president Tom Lewand is planning to meet with Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, this week in Orlando.
As for Fairley, the Lions want to see how 2014 goes.
“I’ve been in contact with (Fairley) and his agent (Brian Overstreet) and with talking with Brian, Nick was kind of juiced up about that. He was excited about that,” Mayhew said of Fairley’s reaction to the team not picking up his option.
“I hope he is. He wants to show everyone what he can do and he wants to have a great season this year.”