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Panthers sack leaders Julius Peppers, Mario Addison among NFL's best bargains

Mario Addison and Julius Peppers have combined for 19 of the Panthers' 40 sacks this season. Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers is one of the best sack bargains in the NFL this season. The future Hall of Famer and fellow end Mario Addison are one of the best sack-duo bargains.

Each is tied for 10th in the NFL with 9.5 sacks and tied for seventh in the league among defensive ends. Their combined 19 sacks are tied with Jacksonville's Calais Campbell and Dante Fowler and Minnesota's Everson Griffen and Daniel Hunter for the most by defensive end teammates, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, with 23.5 sacks, have more.

But what makes Peppers and Addison a bargain are their paychecks. Their cash value this season is a combined $13.2 million. Only Griffin and Hunter, with a cash value of $9.6 million, are a better bargain, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

If you want to go purely by average annual salary given the length of their contracts, Peppers and Addison represent the best value based on their sack production.

Peppers, 37, signed a one-year deal in March worth $3.5 million. He has already earned $500,000 in bonuses for collecting at least nine sacks, and will receive another $250,000 if he reaches 11, which is possible with three games remaining. So he could top out at $4.25 million.

Addison, 30, signed a three-year, $22.5 million deal during the offseason. His average salary is $7.5 million.

Even if Peppers reaches all of his incentives, the Panthers will have a pair of defensive ends with a combined average salary of $11.75 million.

To put that in perspective, New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson boasts an average salary of $17.2 million and has only 3.5 sacks this season. The Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul has an average salary of $15.5 million and has 6.5 sacks. Arizona outside linebacker Chandler Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 14. The Cardinals gave him a five-year, $82.5 million deal during the offseason, putting his average salary at $16.5 million.

So the Panthers, 9-4 heading into Sunday’s game against Green Bay, are paying two players less for this top-level production than many teams are paying for one.

Peppers already has exceeded the 7.5 sacks he had last season for the Packers, who at 7-6 are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. With one more Peppers will equal his 2015 total with Green Bay and reach double-digit sacks for the 10th time in his career.

Peppers is playing at a level that makes one wonder whether this really will be his last season. He needs only eight sacks to pass Kevin Greene (160) for third place on the NFL’s all-time list.

Much may depend on whether the Panthers win the Super Bowl. A big reason Peppers returned to the team that made him the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft was to win a title.

But regardless, Peppers has exceeded expectations. Teammates and coaches constantly speak of how much they have benefited from his experience and leadership. He has provided a calming influence to the defense, particularly the defensive front.

You never see him panic if the defense turns in a poor performance. You never see him worry about a loss. His mantra is to “keep stacking’’ wins and all will be OK.

A big reason the Panthers have stacked nine wins is because Peppers and Addison have stacked sacks. Carolina is tied for third in the league with 40 sacks.

Peppers and Addison each had a sack in Sunday’s 31-24 victory over Minnesota, a game in which the Panthers sacked Vikings quarterback Case Keenum six times and pressured him 20 times.

They’ll be looking to do the same Sunday against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who announced on Tuesday night he had been cleared to play.

Rodgers knows what Peppers can do for an organization because he witnessed it firsthand in Green Bay from 2014-16. The respect level was so high, Peppers was made a team captain in his first year with the Packers. Peppers gave a pregame speech prior to a matchup with Chicago, where he went after leaving Carolina following the 2009 season, that sparked a five-game winning streak.

“It’s that time of the year you want guys to emphasize having that sense of urgency and leading,” Peppers said at the time. “It’s the playoff time of the year, but we’re not assuming we’ve already made it [into the playoffs].”

Don’t be surprised if Carolina coach Ron Rivera has Peppers make a similar speech on Sunday.

Rodgers also knows what Peppers can do as an opponent. While with the Bears, Peppers was fined $10,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the quarterback during the 2010 NFC Championship Game.

Peppers knows what Rodgers can do as well. In his final game with Chicago during the 2013 season, Peppers missed a sack that allowed Rodgers to complete a fourth-down, 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to win the NFC North title.

“He actually cost me my job,’’ Peppers joked at the time. “He got me released. I guess it turned out pretty good.’’

Peppers was released because he was due $13.9 million in salary with a $20 million cap hit. He wasn’t a bargain then.

But he is now.