The then-Indianapolis Colts defensive linemen had just raced home from the team’s facility — a race Hughes won by default; Addison was pulled over by a police officer for speeding.
Yet, about five minutes after Hughes walked through the door, Addison followed.
“How’d you get home so quickly?” Hughes asked, bewildered.
“I told the officer I had to use the bathroom and he let me go,” Addison replied back.
Never a dull moment at that three-bedroom house they shared in suburban Indianapolis.
Before Addison joined Hughes with the Buffalo Bills this offseason, they were teammates and roommates in Indianapolis. They entered the league a year apart on completely different spectrums; Hughes, as a first-round pick in 2010 and Addison, an undrafted free agent in 2011.
But that didn’t stop Hughes from extending a hand, and a room, to Addison when the latter needed a place to live.
“I told him, ‘I’ve got a room upstairs, it’s a three-bedroom house and it’s just myself,'” Hughes said. “We could just go ahead and kick it and make it a lot easier for everyone. We could hold each other accountable, getting to work on time, and just learn and grow.
“We connected and just vibed.”
That gesture resulted in a nearly decade-long friendship that’s brought them back together in Buffalo, where they plan to make an impact on an elite defense and an impression on some young teammates by leaning on their shared experiences.
“We’ve always kept in touch and it’s really cool,” Hughes said. “To have someone in this league for that long and really go back with someone like that — it’s a blessing.”
“And still move like we move,” Addison added.
Learning from the best
Hughes had played defensive end for four years before the Colts made him the No. 31 overall pick in 2010, switching positions during his freshman year at TCU and earning All-American honors by the time he left.
It wasn’t enough, however, to unseat two of the best defensive ends to play the game — Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
The pass-rushers, No. 16 and 17, respectively, on the NFL’s career sacks list, were Pro Bowl selections the year before Hughes was drafted and in their primes throughout his three seasons in Indianapolis. There weren’t many snaps to spare at defensive end, which was initially tough for Hughes, but he learned to embrace his unique situation.
“I got an opportunity to learn from those guys, learn how to become a pro,” he said. “It wasn’t easy at first. It humbled me, it taught me about patience, really, in this league. But I also got to learn from two [future Pro Football] Hall of Famers how to play the game.”
Hughes said the veterans taught him how to take care of his body, how to understand schemes and pass protections … “little nuances” that he hadn’t quite mastered four years removed from playing running back in high school. He never saw the benefits pay off on the field in Indianapolis, but registered back-to-back 10-sack seasons once he was traded to the Bills in 2013.
While Hughes learned from two All-Pros, Addison signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent out of Troy. Already a long shot coming from a small school, Addison entered the league during a lockout-shortened offseason in 2011. He didn’t go through offseason team activities but managed to secure a roster spot, playing behind future Hall-of-Famer Julius Peppers.
Without OTAs, Addison wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived in Chicago. Once he did, Addison realized how much larger players were at the professional level than they were in the Sun Belt Conference.
“When we walked on the field first day of training camp, I see all these massive guys … I was like, ‘Damn, how am I going to make the team behind these guys,'” Addison said. “I didn’t get discouraged at all. I got in there and did what I know best — I used my speed. I did everything off my speed.”
Addison was released by the Bears in November of his rookie season and was picked up by the Colts the next day. He packed his truck with his belongings he had been storing in his Extended Stay hotel room and drove to Indianapolis, where he unloaded it into another hotel room.
This stay wasn’t so extended, however. His second week in the hotel, he received an offer from Hughes to move into his home near the Colts’ facility.
Extending an offer
Hughes always had someone living with him, whether it was his family growing up or his teammates in college. So it was an adjustment for him when former Colts assistant director of public relations Vernon Cheek offered Hughes his three-bedroom home to rent.
The quiet home made Hughes feel more like some of his veteran teammates than it did a single, 21-year-old first-round draft pick — which isn’t to say he was complaining. But when the opportunity arose to feel a little less lonely in the suburbs by adding a roommate, Hughes saw it as an easy decision.
“It just didn’t feel comfortable for me just to be there by myself,” he said. “That’s why I extended that whole stay, just to be able to connect to someone in that city. I wasn’t playing too much but still wanted to be able to hang out with the guys. When we got to the Colts, those were all older guys with families, wives. So it wasn’t like you could say, ‘hey man, after work let’s go out to the bars.’ They’ve got to go take care of real grown man things.
“It was cool just to have another young guy in the room to click and vibe with.”
Addison offered to split rent and utilities with his new roommate; Hughes refused.
Cheek charged him $1,200 a month in rent and Hughes had signed a five-year, $9.75 million contract the previous year. The way he saw it, he was blessed by his living situation and it was only right to pay it forward.
“I told [Mario], if you’re going to go back to the hotel and just be bored, I’ve got a bedroom upstairs,” Hughes said.
Housing wasn’t the only thing Hughes shared with Addison. Hughes offered the same treatment Freeney and Mathis gave him, helping Addison along as both learned to become professionals.
“I learned a lot from him, man,” Addison said. “Watching this guy, he taught me how to eat clean. Jerry was before his time, man. He was a pro, but he was a young pro — he took me under his wing even though he’s nothing but a year ahead of me.
“I got the chance to play with him, Freeney and Mathis at the same time, so I got to pick all their minds. It was a good experience for me.”
The concept of paying it forward stuck with Addison throughout his career; he is quick to invite players to stay with him if they need a place to live, most recently defensive tackle Kyle Love when both played for Carolina.
Hughes and Addison lived together through the remainder of the 2011 season and the first half of the 2012 season before Addison was released and signed by Washington.
Our defense is gaining some more swag. 😈
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) May 5, 2020
They remained in touch over the next eight years, with Addison eventually becoming a force at defensive end for the Panthers; since 2014, nine defensive linemen have more sacks than his 51.5.
Whenever the Bills and Panthers shared a common opponent, Hughes and Addison exchanged tips and critiques. They went head-to-head in 2017, with Addison’s Panthers winning the game but Hughes picking up two sacks.
Addison was quick to call his former roommate after watching film of the game.
“I called him and said, ‘Bruh, you trippin’!'” Addison said.
“What do you mean?” Hughes replied.
“You were supposed to have three sacks, you missed one,” Addison told him.
Addison said Hughes was one of the main reasons he signed a three-year deal with the Bills this offseason. Teaming up in Buffalo is a realization of a dream they had in Indianapolis, of what life would be like if Mathis and Freeney retired and they took over as the team’s top pass-rushers.
Both project to see significant snaps on a defensive line that appears to be Buffalo’s deepest in years.
“These are two very established NFL pros who had terrific careers in our league and we just want to build on what they’ve established up to this point,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “We’re challenging the guys to make this a career year … We’re excited about having both of them and we’re looking forward to them being on the field together.”
Beyond their on-field impact, Hughes and Addison are set up to be role models for younger players, such as 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa and 2019 seventh-round pick Darryl Johnson — like Mathis and Freeney were for them.
“If you were to talk to A.J. about it, he would tell you the benefits are enormous, having the chance to be around Jerry and Mario,” Frazier said. “That’s the same thing Darryl Johnson said. His growth, just watching Jerry’s practice habits and how he conducts himself in the meetings has been terrific for him, and I’m sure it’ll be the same way for A.J.”
Hughes and Addison live separately in Buffalo — they’ll make roughly $21 million this year, combined. With more than $13 million due to him this year, Addison is financially far from the undrafted free agent Hughes met in 2011; he gives Hughes a lot of credit for getting him to this point.
“He had a big impact on me, man,” Addison said. “I’m forever grateful.”