Carolina Panthers

Is the answer to the Panthers’ defensive line on the roster?

Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison, right, received a three-year extension Sunday, while Carolina likely will use the franchise tag on Kawann Short (99).
Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison, right, received a three-year extension Sunday, while Carolina likely will use the franchise tag on Kawann Short (99). dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Despite beautiful, spring-like weather in Charlotte, the Panthers’ front office did not take the weekend off.

General manager Dave Gettleman did some rare Sunday business when he signed edge rusher Mario Addison to a three-year extension.

Gettleman turned in another full day Monday when he gave defensive end Wes Horton a two-year extension and placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short.

This time of year Gettleman often uses his well-worn line that "sometimes the answer is on your roster." Clearly, Gettleman thinks that's the case along his defensive line (with one possible exception, more on that later).

Whether Short signs the tag immediately or not, there’s no reason to think his situation will play out like Josh Norman’s.

“KK’s a good guy,” Addison said. “I’m sure he’s going to make the best decision.”

Short and Addison were the Panthers’ two biggest priorities among their own free agents this offseason. And both are locked up -- for this season at a minimum -- more than a week before the start of free agency.

The Addison extension – worth a reported $22.5 million – was a smart signing. Addison has been the Panthers’ best edge rusher the past three seasons – a collector of old-school cars and speed-rush sacks.

He’s also well-liked and respected at Bank of America Stadium.

Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said the Panthers envision an increased role for Mario Addison in their defense.

Addison, 29, was dealing with a foot injury late last season and missed the Panthers’ winless, two-game trip to the West Coast. It would have been easy for Addison to sit out another game or two and get his body 100 percent healthy with an eye on free agency.

He didn’t.

Addison recorded three sacks over the final four games and finished with a career-high 9.5. In the process, he earned a new contract and – from the sounds of it – more playing time.

The Panthers have one more year to see if the light will come on (and stay on) for hot-and-cold, edge rusher Kony Ealy.

Addison has been a situational pass-rusher during his first five seasons in Carolina. But Gettleman called Addison “one of the best emerging pass rushers in the league,” and said the Panthers envision an increased role for him in their defense.

Addison was one of five potential free agents along Carolina’s defensive line, along with Short, defensive tackle Kyle Love and ends Charles Johnson and Horton.

Horton is more of a run-stuffer, although one of his 2.5 sacks in 2016 was a strip-sack of Washington's Kirk Cousins that turned the Monday night game in the Panthers' favor.

Despite finishing second in the NFL with 47 sacks in 2016, the thinking here is the Panthers could use another pass-rusher even with Addison back in the fold.

The Panthers have one more year to see if the light will come on (and stay on) for hot-and-cold, edge rusher Kony Ealy. For what it’s worth, Addison isn’t ready to punt on Ealy yet.

Getting defensive end Julius Peppers back to Carolina to finish his career makes sense for both sides, provided the Panthers don’t overpay for the 37-year-old free agent.

“He’s got unbelievable talents,” Addison said during a conference call Sunday evening. “I work with the guy everyday. Once Kony gets it in his head that he’s unstoppable, then he’s going to be unstoppable. The guy’s a freak.”

The Panthers have little to lose in bringing Johnson back on something resembling the one-year, $3 million deal he received last year.

And getting defensive end Julius Peppers back to Charlotte to finish his career makes sense for both sides, provided the Panthers don’t overpay for the 37-year-old free agent.

Gettleman has never been one to get too sentimental in money matters, especially those involving players he didn’t draft. And he’ll continue to be prudent, even with an estimated $50 million or more in cap space.

A first-team line that includes Short and Star Lotulelei at defensive tackle, with some combination of Ealy/Addison/Peppers at end, seems like a decent starting point – especially with a healthy Luke Kuechly lining up alongside Thomas Davis and a more-involved Shaq Thompson manning the linebacker spots.

“Just know the front four’s going to continue what we’ve been doing, and that’s get after the quarterback no matter what,” Addison said. “The linebackers are going to play downhill and the defensive backs are going to break on the ball. That’s our philosophy and that’s how we’re going to get the job done.”

Addison also endorsed new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was promoted last month after Sean McDermott left to become Buffalo’s head coach.

“He’s a great leader. The guys like to talk to him when we need to know anything. He’s pretty straightforward,” Addison said. “I know he’s going to do a great job. He’s going to build this defense. He’s going to put it back where it was. We didn’t lose a step. We probably gained some more.”

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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