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Age is just a number for Mario Addison, Bills' consistent new edge rusher

Anyone wondering whether 32-year-old defensive end Mario Addison is close to hitting the over-the-hill wall might check out a play from the Carolina Panthers’ game in Arizona last season.

Cardinals speedy rookie quarterback Kyler Murray took off out of a collapsing pocket with Addison in pursuit. Addison managed to keep close enough to Murray’s heels to chase him to the sidelines and out of bounds for a 2-yard sack.

Addison is the Bills’ primary new addition to the pass rush. The Bills’ management clearly is not worried about the nine-year veteran showing his age – at least in 2020.

Addison agreed to a three-year contract with the Bills. He will get a hefty $14 million this year, a signal the Bills are confident he will be a good replacement for Shaq Lawson, who left for Miami in free agency. The three-year value of Addison’s contract is $30.4 million, although the Bills would not take a big cap hit if they decided to part ways with him after this year.

No team is in a better position than the Bills to assess how much gas Addison has left in his tank. Bills General Manager Brandon Beane was in Carolina when the Panthers signed him to the practice squad in 2012. Head coach Sean McDermott coached him for four-plus seasons. New Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington coached him for the past seven-plus seasons.

The past three years, the Bills’ defense has succeeded with just one edge rusher – Jerry Hughes – who has speed, explosiveness and “bendability” around the corner of the offensive line.

As well as the 265-pound Lawson played last year in logging a career-high 6.5 sacks, he rarely won with speed. He brought power and athleticism.

The 254-pound Addison gives them a second speed threat, and he has been far more consistent than Lawson.

Addison, who turns 33 in September, has nine-plus sacks in four straight seasons, which is the second longest streak among active players in the NFL. He had 9.5 sacks in 2019, 9.0 in 2018, 11.0 in 2017 and 9.5 in 2016.

Despite that, Addison never has made the Pro Bowl, which is why he’s annually listed among the NFL’s more underrated players. He’s never placed in the elite category of the league’s edge rushers, but he consistently produces.

“The Pro Bowl would be good, but sometimes the Pro Bowl is rigged up - it’s all about popularity,” Addison told the Charlotte Observer last season. “I don’t care about being popular. I’ve been under the radar my whole career.”

Addison played a lot for Carolina – 66% or 67% of the defensive snaps each of the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

He’s likely going to have the luxury of being kept more fresh with the Bills.

In fact, given the addition of free-agent signee Quinton Jefferson, who can rush inside or outside, all of the Bills’ defensive ends figure to be a bit fresher, presuming they stay healthy.

Hughes played 64% of the Bills’ snaps last year despite injuries, while Trent Murphy played 65% and Lawson played 46%.

Addison can play either side, and he’s also effective sliding inside as a stand-up defensive tackle in pass-rush situations.

Which side will the Bills use him most? It’s a good question.

Hughes rushes 90% of the time from the right defensive end spot. Addison rushed more than 95% from the right side in 2016, ’17 and ’18. Last season, he rushed 18.5% from the left side.

By any measure, Addison is a quality player, not a superstar.

Among edge rushers who had 250 or more rush opportunities (basically starters who played more than eight games), Addison ranked 37th in pressure rate in 2019, 28th in 2018, 13th in 2017 and fifth in 2016, all according to Pro Football Focus. (Pressure rate is an indicator but not a definitive measure of pass rush ability. Sometimes outstanding players aren't near the top, and it doesn't factor in quality of competition, who's getting more attention and who's eating up blockers to create openings.)

Addison’s best pressure rate (10.5% in 2016) came in a year when he was kept freshest. He played 43% of the snaps that season.

Addison racked up some sacks against shaky competition last year. He had three of the Panthers’ eight sacks in the Week 3 game Arizona, when Murray looked like a struggling rookie. The next week, he had two sacks against a struggling Houston Texans line, which gave up six sacks on the day.

But Addison had good games against good players, too, in 2019.

He showed off a stutter-step and burst speed move around two-time Green Bay Pro Bowler David Bakhtiari to force an Aaron Rodgers incompletion. Rodgers made a miraculous play to avoid the sack.

Playing from a stand-up defensive tackle spot (a la Lorenzo Alexander), Addison showed a fierce bull rush to knock Jacksonville guard Andrew Norwell back into the quarterback and force a fumble, which the Panthers scooped up and returned for a touchdown.

“I stabbed him, got his hands off of me, and I ran him back to the quarterback,” Addison said after the game.

Addison had a good game against quality Atlanta left tackle Jake Matthews, too, showing his speed-to-power move to push the lineman back into Matt Ryan for a sack. He also has a good long-arm power move to either set the edge or get disengaged from tackles.

Another positive indicator given Addison’s age is his durability. He has started 47 of a possible 48 regular-season games in the past three years, with the only game missed the result of the death of his brother.

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