New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton confirmed Thursday that defensive tackle Nick Fairley is dealing with a heart issue that threatens Fairley's NFL career.
Fairley, who had career highs in sacks (6.5) and tackles (43) last season with the Saints, is awaiting a third medical opinion, after having already received two, including one that advised his retirement. He re-signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent this offseason (a four-year deal), but was absent during OTAs.
"Right now, where it's at is, he's gotten two professional opinions," Payton said. "The first one was one that advised that he shouldn't play football again. The second opinion was a little different. He's getting a third opinion – or has already gotten a third opinion – (and) we're waiting on that opinion.
"The things we know are this: It's obviously something significant and serious that we've got to pay attention to, for Nick and the club. We're hopeful and yet, we're guarded, because of the type of condition that we're talking about.
"When he came out in the draft (in 2011), he was someone that at the Combine physical, had what I would say is not very uncommon – an enlarged heart – something that a lot of the athletes that we see during the physicals have. The one examination saw further concern, and that's why he hasn't been doing anything right now until we get a better feel for where he's at.
A look at Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley throughout the 2016 season.
"We're obviously wanting to get every expert's eyes on his study and examinations and I'm sure Nick and his agent feel the same way. But it's challenging."
Fairley's condition was flagged after he took a physical prior to signing the contract.
"Yeah, and that's the ongoing challenge because part of the process was during that evaluation," Payton said. "(But) the most important thing right now in our mind is his well-being. When it's something like that, it's important.
"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. That's why he's not been here. We haven't been trying to hide him or any of that. It's just, we're trying to get as many people to look at this that have experience with it."
Payton said that over the years, the initial diagnosis that Fairley was issued at the Combine has changed.
"I think that, like every one of us, it's not constant," he said. "There's ongoing change. The one report or examination indicated some change that was concerning. We'll keep following up on that. I think clearly, in the next couple of weeks here, we should have a little bit more finality."
Payton said that he has spoken to Fairley and that the Mobile, Ala., native has taken the news as well as can be expected.
"He's fine," Payton said. "I think at first, a little surprised. There's two ways to look at it. The potential bad news is you don't play football again. The potential good news is you lead a healthy life with the condition that you know you have and treat accordingly.
"In the event that there's enough confidence that he can play, then we broach that when the time comes."