Have the Bills upgraded by adding Mario Addison?

03/19/2020
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With the beginning of the free agency legal tampering period, Bills General Manager Brandon Beane didn’t take long to make moves. His trade for star wide receiver Stefon Diggs has been the biggest splash so far, and it’s difficult to imagine another move of this magnitude this offseason. However, no other group has been more revamped than the team’s defensive line, headed by the addition of former Carolina Panthers edge rusher Mario Addison.

After enjoying a breakout year, it was expected that Shaq Lawson would test the free agency waters and look for the best possible deal. Buffalo smartly didn’t overpay for his services, since a combination of in-house replacements (Trent Murphy and Darryl Johnson) and free agent possibilities were available all along. Lawson got paid (reportedly 3-years, $30M) by Miami and left, opening a huge hole in the usual four-man edge rotation.

Enter Mario Addison.

It’s well known Beane and Head Coach Sean McDermott are very comfortable adding their former Panthers players. They know “the process” and the system very well, making the transition to a new team easier. This offseason, Buffalo also added former Carolina Defensive Coordinator Eric Washington as the new defensive line coach. The writing was on the wall about Addison becoming a top target for the team this week.

With basically the same deal given to Lawson (Addison’s got a front-loaded 3-year, $30.45M deal), Beane brought in his former Panthers pass rusher. Can he replace what Shaq used to bring to the table? According to the numbers, Buffalo got an upgrade.

Rushing the Passer

When talking about edge rushers, the first stat that comes to our minds is sacks. Basically, Shaq’s best season in this department (2019, with seven sacks) has been the floor for “Super Mario”, who’s got at least six sacks in each of his last six seasons, and 11 last year.

Sacks aren’t everything, though. Playing on 70.6-percent of the snaps in 2019 (729/1032 snaps), according to Pro Football Focus, Addison added six QB hits and 32 QB hurries to his sack numbers. He did it while offering versatility through the line. Often, we could see Mario rushing from inside, in a similar manner to how Lorenzo Alexander was used on clear passing situations.

On the other hand, playing 50.1-percent of the snaps for the Bills (520/1037), Lawson put up 14 QB hits (more hits and fewer sacks) and 19 QB hurries. Shaq never recorded more than 19 hurries in a season, while Addison has been over 30 every year since 2015. There’s little doubt about who’s the superior player when talking about getting to the passer.

Defending the Run

Here’s where Lawson always shined as a Bill. His tenacity, paired with a motor that never stops, made him a reliable edge-setter. We constantly saw Shaq making plays in the backfield in the running game, shown by his 25 run stops last season after recording 18 in each of the two previous years. He could be seen pursuing runners downfield, never giving up. Lawson is a really dynamic defender in this department.

Addison isn’t at Lawson’s level here, but he’s not a bad run defender by any means. He recorded 16 stops last season as a base 3-4 outside linebacker after having 24 and 25 in 2018 and 2017, respectively, playing in a similar role he should have in Buffalo. His experience in this scheme is a big plus.

Overall

Will the Bills miss Shaq Lawson? Well, there isn’t a simple answer, in my opinion. Short-term, I believe Addison can be an upgrade. He’s not at the same level in the run game, but his pass rushing prowess more than makes up for it. Add the familiarity with the scheme and the leadership qualities he brings, and it’s hard to not like the move by the Bills.

On the other hand, Shaq is 25 and still can get better, as he showed last year. Miami could be primed to enjoy the best years of his career, letting him play his more natural right defensive end spot. In Buffalo he played mostly on the left, and the difference in production was clear, especially in the pass rushing department when he finally started to get snaps on the right side.

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It would be nice to have Lawson in the rotation and ready to take over from Hughes (32 years old in August) when he inevitably declines.

Addison will be 33 when the season starts and is a band-aid for the position. Also, he played 81.5-percent of his snaps on the right, where Hughes plays his best football. Assuming Addison continues to be a starter (started every game since 2017), who’s going take over at left defensive end? Hughes was tried there in the past to “take advantage of slower right tackles,” but it didn’t work as expected. With Trent Murphy still on the roster and new addition Quinton Jefferson offering some versatility through the line, Buffalo should have options there, but if Hughes and Addison are going to play together most of the time, one will need to play mostly on the left. It’ll be an interesting topic to keep an eye on when training camp arrives.

 

 

 

 

 

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