Scott Fowler

Super Mario: Panthers DE Addison hunts for more sacks, big payday

Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (97) could leave after this season for a lucrative contract elsewhere. Or he could stay. Either way, he says he wants his leverage in free agency to help set him up for life after football.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (97) could leave after this season for a lucrative contract elsewhere. Or he could stay. Either way, he says he wants his leverage in free agency to help set him up for life after football. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Things happen fast for Mario Addison, which is why he is about to make a whole lot of money.

Things also happen slowly for the Carolina defensive end, which is why at age 29 he has only started three NFL games in his career and will not start once again when the Panthers play at Washington on “Monday Night Football.”

Fast: Addison is the Panthers’ “edge nightmare,” as quarterback Cam Newton said. Addison plays only about half of the Panthers’ defensive snaps. But he ranks as the leading quarterback sack artist (with a career-high 7.5) on the No. 1 team in the NFL in sacks. Newton’s nickname for him: “Super Mario.”

Slow: Addison went to Troy, then was undrafted. He was cut by three NFL teams before finally sticking with the Panthers in 2012. He is about to hit unrestricted free agency with some real leverage for the first time.

Fast: Addison had one of the most remarkable games of any defensive end in the NFL a week ago vs. San Diego. Not only did he sack Philip Rivers in the end zone for his first career safety, but Addison also was credited with 11 more quarterback pressures on Rivers by Pro Football Focus. Those were the most pressures in a single game that any edge defender has had in the NFL all season.

Charlotte Observer reporters Joseph Person and Jourdan Rodrigue preview Monday night's NFL matchup between Carolina and Washington.

Slow: Addison feels like it took him forever to finally sack Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, a player for whom he said he has “mad respect.”

“Before I ever sacked him, he got out of about three sacks of mine,” Addison said. “He’s real mobile. For the longest time I was like, ‘Gosh, just stand there and let me hit you, bro!’”

Wilson is one of the few quarterbacks who can consistently outrun Addison. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, Addison is small for an NFL defensive end and thus is used mostly by the Panthers in pass-rushing situations when he doesn’t have to worry about holding up against the run. Blockers frequently outweigh him by 50 pounds. When he sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Addison realized that “Big Ben” was as big as he was.

“Actually, he’s bigger,” Addison said.

In Carolina’s last game vs. San Diego, Addison had one sack and 11 quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus. Addison’s QB pressure total against the Chargers was the most by any edge defender in an NFL game all season.

Addison’s journey to pass-rushing specialist with the Panthers has been steady but not that spectacular. He had 6.5 sacks in 2014, then 6.0 in 2015. He also became a valuable special-teams player, running down Denver punt returner Jordan Norwood in February’s Super Bowl 60 yards downfield in what was one of the finest plays of Addison’s career.

Addison isn’t playing a lot of special teams now, though. He has plantar fasciitis in his right heel, which made him miss two games. He estimated that he’s playing at about “70 percent.’

But now Addison – who has a beard to rival the Houston Rockets’ James Harden – is likely going to lead the Panthers in sacks for the first time in his life. He has a personal goal of 10 sacks before the season is done.

“I know what I’m trying to reach, so I can almost play through anything,” Addison said. “I’m not saying I’m Superman, or Super Mario, but I know what I want to be in the next few years. I can play through the pain.”

‘Not a one-trick pony’

Although Addison is known mostly for his speed to the quarterback’s blind side on a wide rush around the edge, that’s not his only move. In recent years his biggest improvement has been developing several “counter moves,” coach Ron Rivera said, so offensive tackles can’t anticipate he’s going to rush wide every time.

“He’s pretty tough,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said of Addison. “He can hit you a lot of different ways. ... He’s got some power to him. He can beat you off the edge. He’s got a great versatility in his rush. He’s not a one-trick pony.”

Said Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott of Addison: “He gives us that fastball off the edge, that quick twitch, and I love his attitude. Tough. He’ll do anything. No job is too small, no job is too big. ... He really embodies what we’re all about in his DNA.”

He really embodies what we’re all about in his DNA.

Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, on defensive end Mario Addison.

By most people’s standards, Addison makes huge money. He has averaged about $1.3 million per season over the past two years. By NFL defensive end standards, he is underpaid for a player who is getting to the quarterback regularly. Addison is No. 56 on Spotrac’s chart of highest defensive end salaries this season, but he is tied for 21st in the NFL in sacks (including both linebackers and defensive linemen).

So when free agency begins in March 2017, Addison is going to be due for a big raise. Either the Panthers or someone else is likely going to have to double or even triple his money to sign him. He makes no secret that this will be a significant step in his career.

Said Addison of the impending contract: “It’s very important. ... I want to get a real good contract. I want a contract where I can take care of my family (his four siblings and Mom all live back in his home state of Alabama) and can say that I put in the work and it really paid off.”

Dreaming of cars

Addison likes cars, especially older ones, and he has a dream of one day owning a business that both works on cars and sells them.

“One day I know I’m going to have one of the biggest one-stop (auto) shops ever in the state of Alabama,” Addison said.

For now, though, he is enjoying his status as a relatively late bloomer in the league. Washington was one of the three teams that fired him when he first was trying to stick in the league, so he is excited for Monday’s game. When I asked him about his favorite time on any game day, though, Addison had an unusual answer.

“This may be crazy,” he said, “but it’s before the game.

“My favorite part is when we unite as a team and we all pray together. TD (linebacker Thomas Davis) always starts the prayer off. You can tell everybody’s heads are in it. Then we split into offense, defense and special teams – someone like TD motivates the defense, Ryan Kalil the offense and maybe Joe Webb the special teams. I love stuff like that.

“And then we’re through with all of it, and I know it’s time to play ball.” 

Sack masters

The Panthers led the NFL with 39 total sacks after Week 14 of the 2016 regular season. Here are the team’s best at sacking the quarterback and their total sacks this season:

No.

Player

Sacks

1.

Mario Addison

7.5

2.

Kawann Short

5.0

3.

Charles Johnson

4.0

4.

Star Lotulelei

4.0

5.

Kony Ealy

3.0

6.

Thomas Davis

2.5

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