The walking wounded

Kyle Riviere
Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Photo courtesy of

It’s no big secret that the Saints have crashed and burned on many of their offseason moves over the past five years.

Oh yes, there were some good times.

From 2005-2010, they were able to bring in players like Drew Brees, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, Jeremy Shockey and Darren Sproles.

Brees has become a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest player in the franchise’s history. He, Vilma, Sharper and Shockey helped lead the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl.

Sproles ignited a great 2011 run that saw them come just short of reaching the NFC Championship Game.

Unfortunately, ever since then, the Saints’ personnel decisions have been hit or miss, and for the most part, they have been big misses.

They’ve dealt players like Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, and recently, Brandin Cooks. Those guys were special stars that, for the most part, have gone elsewhere and continued to excel.

The jury is still out on Cooks, but with Tom Brady throwing him the ball, I think it’s safe to say he’s in for a huge year in New England.

The players they have brought in have not had close to the same kind of impact.

They took a chance on Brandon Browner. After a disastrous season where he committed about 821 penalties, he was one and done.

C.J. Spiller was a failed one-year experiment.

Jairus Byrd was a high-priced free-agent signing, but he hasn’t come close to matching what he did in Buffalo. He has spent most of his time injured on the sideline.

James Laurinaitis was brought in last season to play middle linebacker, but he ended up on injured reserve halfway through the year. Back in April, he announced his retirement.

And just this summer, two more of their free-agent acquisitions have had their time in New Orleans come to disappointing ends.

The pickup of linebacker Darnell Ellerbe looked like a slam dunk when the Saints snagged him from the Ravens three years ago. With New Orleans aging at the linebacker position, he was supposed to take charge and spark the Saints’ defensive resurgence.

Constant injuries prevented that from ever happening.

Ellerbe was limited to just six games in 2015, and this past season, he only played in nine.

Now, as the team prepares for 2017, Ellerbe is sidelined yet again. He has been placed on injury reserve.

Ellerbe will probably be ready to go in another month, but Sean Payton has already come out and said that he is no longer in the Saints’ plans. When he does make his return for the IR, New Orleans plans on cutting the 31-year-old.

So, after two injury-plagued seasons, Ellerbe will soon be no more. In his absence, they’ll be forced to rely on journeymen linebackers like Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar and rookie Alex Anzalone.

Ellerbe’s injury will cost him a month, but Saints defensive lineman Nick Fairley’s affliction could cost him his life.

After consulting with three doctors during the offseason, Fairley decided that his best course of action would be to sit out the entire 2017 season, due to the deadly complications that could arise from his enlarged heart.

Fairley’s condition was discovered at the 2011 combine, but the Lions took a chance and drafted him in the first round. Ever since, he has passed several physical exams.

However, during this offseason, a heart specialist recommended that he retire because of the condition. He got at least three medical opinions, and they all varied.

But this isn’t some shoulder injury or a tweak in the knee. This is one of the two most vital organs in the human body. This is life or death.

Fairly knows this. That is why he has decided to sit out, and there has been speculation that he might retire altogether. Though, Payton said “never say never” when talking about his future in the NFL.

It’s sad to see this happen to Fairley.

He’s only 29 years old. He has had much of his potential thwarted by injuries in his young career, but last season, he was finally able to stay healthy and show why he was so heralded coming out of Auburn.

Fairley posted the best season of his professional career as he collected 45 tackles and 6.5 sacks.

Not having him will be a huge loss for the Saints’ defense, but some things are more important than football.

I rather tune into a Saints game and not see him battling in the trenches than watching him tragically collapse on the ground in the middle of a game and suffer a fate similar to that of Layola Marymount basketball great Hank Gathers.

Sadly, Fairley’s condition cannot be improved with medication or surgery. It’s just a cross that he’ll always have to bear.

Terrible luck for him, bad luck for the Saints.

Whatever Fairley’s future holds, I wish him the best.