DETROIT -- Nick Fairley was in Houston and, of all things, in the middle of a workout when general manager Martin Mayhew called him one morning this spring to tell him the Detroit Lions were not going to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
While the news seemed odd to many -- Fairley, a starter and key member of the Lions' defensive line, was coming off a career-best six-sack season, and the option, which is guaranteed for injury only, gives the team player control at a reasonable cost -- Mayhew was up front in explaining his reasons why.
The Lions had grown weary of Fairley's fluctuating weight and inconsistent play and saw this as a last chance to motivate their talented defensive tackle who's shown far too few flashes of brilliance on the field.
Fairley digested the news as he finished his workout, and after visiting his Houston-based agent, Brian Overstreet, he decided to take it not as a shot to his pride or a punch to his slimmed-down gut, but a challenge and an opportunity to make more money.
"I kind of said it's a good thing, kind of," Fairley said. "It kind of will put me into a new contract earlier than (other) guys coming out in my draft. They're picking up guys' fifth-year option, that gets me into a new contract. That's the way I look at it."
Even before the Lions decided not to pick up his option, Fairley was in the process of remaking a body he showed off Friday night at a reception for the charity kickball tournament he hosts for local youth every year.
He worked out regularly with trainers while in Houston this off-season, and with the help of the Lions' strength and conditioning staff the last two months is now a svelte 295 pounds, about 27 pounds lighter than he finished last year.
"I'd say I'm back to my Auburn ways," Fairley said. "I feel like back when I was at that national championship, and you know how that year went so looking to repeat it."
Fairley played at about 290 pounds his last season at Auburn, when he had 11.5 sacks and won the Lombardi Trophy as the nation's best defensive lineman, but has struggled with his weight in the NFL.
As a rookie, he reported to camp out of shape after the lockout and broke his foot before ever playing in a game. He missed part of the 2012 season with shoulder injuries, and ballooned up to 320 pounds last year after straying from his off-season diet.
Along with his workouts, Fairley, who underwent sleep apnea surgery May 12 and expects to be cleared to return to Organized Team Activities this week, said he recommitted himself to healthier eating this off-season.
"I eat a lot of Subway and that kind of gets me down to where I want to be," Fairley said. "When I got away from eating Subway I got to eating back fast food and I got away from it, got back to like McDonald's and fast food and that kind of put some weight back on me."
It's not just the "Jared Diet" that has Fairley looking slim, either. He's eating more baked chicken and drinking less pop, too.
"For this year, I'm just going to stick through it throughout the whole year," he said. "I'm trying to stay away from fast food and fried stuff and trying to cut out all my soda. I kind of got lazy with it (last) year, I would say."
The sleep apnea surgery should help, too, Fairley said.
Fairley said doctors went through his nose for a procedure designed to help him sleep more restfully at night, and already he's feeling a "big time" difference in his energy level and vigor.
He goes for a checkup Monday and should resume football activities soon after, and ultimately it's the football -- not the weight loss or workouts -- that will determine his future.
One of just 11 2011 first-rounders not to have his fifth-year option exercised, Fairley said he wants to stay with the Lions long term and doesn't consider their handling of his contract a lack of loyalty.
He said questions about his work ethic are overblown, too, but acknowledged he needs to be more consistent on the field.
Though he put up career numbers last year, Fairley, who said his shoulder bothered him "off and on" during the season, went two months between sacks at one point. Even in one of his most memorable games, when he had a late sack and stuffed the potential game-tying two-point conversion in a November win against the Chicago Bears, he was largely invisible much of the day.
This year, Fairley said there won't be any stretches like that.
"I think it's more me, my play," Fairley said. "Allow myself to get blocked at times, just stuff like that. (I need to start) being that guy, being relentless and just going out there knowing that no one can block me and going at it like that."
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