When the Carolina Panthers sent out their defense for the Bucs' first play from scrimmage Sunday, Mario Addison was in a spot he hadn't been in more than three years — on the field.
It was Addison's first start since Week 13 of 2013, which could be a bit surprising if you only look at sack numbers.
Since the beginning of 2014, Addison has led the Panthers with 22.0 sacks. Over the same time frame, the Panthers' ends with the most playing time — Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy — totaled 13.5 and 19.0 sacks, respectively.
But because of Addison's slight 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame, the Panthers decided long ago he'd be best used in a situational role, a speed rusher who could blow past tackles on passing downs. And while that may be true, it's not an ideal description for a guy who'd like to maximize his earning potential as he heads into free agency after a career-high 9.5-sack season.
"I'm an every-down end, I've just got a role," Addison said Monday as he was clearing out his locker. "And my role is to come in whenever they need me."
That makes him a situational pass rusher, right?
"I think that's a misnomer," coach Ron Rivera said. "I know I contributed to it because there's a certain thing you want people to think.
"But if you go back and look at a lot of the plays he made, he made them on first down as well as he made them on third down."
Taking Rivera's advice, I did go back and look at the plays Addison made, and here's how the stats shook out:
- Of his 9.5 sacks this season, 6.0 came on third down, 1.0 was on second down and 2.5 were on first. He added a safety and strip-sack-recovery on two of those third-down sacks.
- Of his 17 other tackles, only five came on third down. Two were on second while eight came on first, including two tackles for a loss in Week 16 against the Falcons.
- Combine those plays and you get 13 on first down, three on second and 11 on third.
So Rivera wasn't just blowing smoke.
"I think Mario's a complete defensive end. I think he can play pretty much anything for you," Rivera said. "He's a dynamic player. He's an explosive player."
But if the Panthers believed all along Addison was an every-down end, why did he just recently start getting playing time like one?
From Weeks 1-6 this year, for example, Addison averaged 24.5 snaps per game with a high of 29. But starting in Week 8, that averaged ballooned to 36 per game as the Panthers also finally started weaning him off special teams.
Addison, whose last contract was a two-year, $2.56 million extension he signed in June 2014, couldn't have timed his breakout year much better. But there is a number that can't be explained away with stats. He'll turn 30 at the start of next season, a figure that could lower offers from the Panthers and other potential suitors.
"Whatever God says, that's what's going to happen," Addison said when asked about his upcoming business decision.
And would you like Him to keep you here?
"Yeah, I love Carolina."
But surely money could talk?
"I've got to go get treatment ... "