Carolina Panthers: The case for re-signing Mario Addison

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 08: Mario Addison #97 of the Carolina Panthers before their game against the Los Angeles Rams at Bank of America Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 08: Mario Addison #97 of the Carolina Panthers before their game against the Los Angeles Rams at Bank of America Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

With the start of free agency less than two weeks away, the Carolina Panthers have a decision to make with Mario Addison.

The NFL’s 2020 free agency period will kick off in conjunction with the new league year on March 18th, and perhaps no team faces as many questions on the defensive side of the ball as the Carolina Panthers. Five of the team’s defensive starters from last season will be free agents, a sixth is likely to have his player option declined, and Luke Kuechly retired in January. With all that being said, this year’s Panthers defense is going to look incredibly different.

One player that they would perhaps be wise to bring back, though, is defensive end Mario Addison. The 32-year-old has been a fixture in Carolina for the past seven seasons, and has continued to play at a high level. Recent reports have indicated that while Addison plans to test the market, the Panthers do have interest in bringing him back for an eighth season. Going into his tenth year in the league, it’s unlikely that Addison would require a huge deal, but he also won’t come particularly cheap. Nonetheless, a reunion could serve the Panthers well.

Despite being almost 33, Addison’s performance has remained consistent, and he has been able to stay healthy.

By the time Week One of the 2020 campaign rolls around, Addison will have passed his 33rd birthday and will be entering his tenth year in the NFL. Originally undrafted out of Troy, Addison bounced around for the first two years of his career before finding a home with Carolina in 2013. In 111 games with the team, Addison has recorded 55.0 sacks and 11 forced fumbles. He ranks fourth in franchise history in sacks, and has been the team’s leading sacker in each of the past four years. Over that span he has totaled 39.0 sacks and has played in all but three games, with only two being due to injury.

Addison has at least six sacks in six-straight years now, and has had at least nine in each of the past four. With that being said, it’s clear that even as he approaches his early-mid 30s, his play hasn’t yet slacked off. Addison is one of the only remaining Panthers from the 2015 Super Bowl team, and has since become a fan-favorite in the Carolinas. On top of steady production, his ability to stay on the field has been key as well. Addison has started 47 of a possible 48 regular-season games in the past three years, with the only game missed the result of a family tragedy. Many times in sports the old adage “the best ability is availability” gets thrown around, and it’s certainly one that fits Addison. If the Panthers can lure the veteran end back to Carolina, there’s no reason to think that his solid play won’t continue.

In addition to being a productive player, Addison is also a leader on the defense and could aid Brian Burns’ development.

While there’s no debating the fact that Addison has been a key piece of the Panthers’ defense over the last half-decade, his impact away from the stat sheet is worth noting as well. For years the heart and soul of the Carolina defense was Thomas Davis. Right behind him, though, was Addison. When Davis wasn’t re-signed and left for Los Angeles last offseason, that thrust Addison into the former linebacker’s place as a leader. Kuechly was like a coach on the field, and was great in the locker room, but he didn’t necessarily provide the vocal leadership that Davis and Addison do.

Aside from being a team leader, bringing back Addison could also be hugely beneficial for one player in particular. That individual is second-year player Brian Burns, whom the Panthers took in the first round of last year’s draft. Burns flashed immense potential in his rookie season, erupting for 7.5 sacks, 23 pressures, a forced fumble, and a touchdown. His numbers could have been even better; however, he played only 43% of the team’s defensive snaps. Coaches attributed his limited playing time to “scheme fit” and injury, but considering how disorganized the unit was, we can ultimately base it on defensive dysfunction in general. Burns is perhaps best suited for a 3-4 system, although he figures to be a much larger piece of Carolina’s defense in his second year no matter the alignment.

The early indication from the Matt Rhule regime is that the Panthers will revert to a base 4-3 defense in 2020, and seeing as though that’s not particularly in line with Burns’ natural skill-set, it’s an area where Addison can help him grow. Addison has thrived as a hand-in-the-dirt pass rusher, and like many of his teammates, the 3-4 defense affected his impact last season. With that being said, the switch back may not only be better for Addison himself, but could also give him the opportunity to mentor the younger Burns. 2020 will be a big year for Burns and a host of other young players, so having a leader such as Addison in the fold can only be a plus for their development. Like so many other veterans, a potential Addison return may not only help the team now, but could leave an impact for years to come.