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2023 Buccaneers Free Agent Focus: Will Gholston

Veteran DL Will Gholston has quietly put together a solid decade of productive football for the Buccaneers but is now one of eight core defenders on the team who could hit free agency later this month

FAF Gholston

Will Gholston, who was selected with the 126th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has played 153 regular-season games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That alone makes Gholston one of the most successful fourth-round picks in franchise history.

Gholston's games played total ranks ninth in franchise history. Two spots above him on the list, with 160 career games played, is former Pro Bowl center Tony Mayberry, who was also a fourth-round selection. Mayberry, picked 108th overall in 1990, played every game for the Buccaneers for exactly one decade, comprising the entirety of his NFL career. Gholston has now played exactly one decade in the NFL, all for the Buccaneers. Will he back for an 11th, unlike Mayberry, and if so how high will he climb on that franchise games played list? In a 17-game campaign, he could finish the 2023 season as high as fifth, depending upon what also happens with Lavonte David (166).

Last season, Gholston played all 17 games on an interior defensive front that could be nearly hollowed out later this month when free agency begins. Of the seven players that took snaps on the Bucs' defensive line in 2022 (not including outside linebackers), five are due to become free agents when the new league year begins on March 15. That includes Gholston along with Akiem Hicks, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Patrick O'Connor and Deadrin Senat. The two under contract for 2023 are Vita Vea and top 2022 draft pick Logan Hall. Gholston and the Buccaneers have enjoyed a fond relationship over the past 10 years but both now face a decision on how long it will continue.

Gholston is one of 22 pending unrestricted free agents from the Bucs' 2022 roster (not counting the retired Tom Brady) and one of eight defenders who logged at least 400 defensive snaps last year. Clearly, the Bucs have a lot to sort through between now and March 15.

Roster turnover from season to season is a given in the NFL and it's certain that the Bucs won't be able to retain all of those potential free agents, but they will surely try to retain as much talent as possible, especially homegrown talent. And so, in the weeks leading up to the start of the new league year, we are going to look at 10 players who are currently poised to become unrestricted free agents in mid-March. This is the full schedule of our 2023 Free Agent Focus rundown:

February 15: WR Julio Jones

February 17: ILB Lavonte David

February 22: OLB Anthony Nelson

February 24: CB Jamel Dean

March 1: S Mike Edwards

March 3: DL Will Gholston

March 8: CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

March 10: DL Akiem Hicks

March 14: S Logan Ryan

March 15: OLB Carl Nassib

This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. However, we continue this week with one of the more underrated performers in team annals.

Player: Will Gholston

Position: Defensive Lineman

Age at the Start of the 2023 Season: 32

Experience: Entering 11th NFL season

How Acquired: Selected in the fourth round (126th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft

Previous Contract(s): Completed original four-year rookie deal in 2016. Subsequently signed and completed a second, five-year contract with the Buccaneers (2017-21). Played the 2022 season on a one-year deal.

Rank in Pro Football Focus Top 100 NFL Free Agents for 2023: Not listed.

2022 Performance: As noted above, Gholston appeared in every game for the Buccaneers last season (including one playoff contest), something he has now done five years in a row. Because he generally played in the Bucs' base 3-4 alignment but not always in sub packages, Gholston made nine starts, a decision that was usually dependent on what personnel grouping the opposing offense chose for its first play. In general, though, his playing time remained fairly consistent from week to week and by season's end, including the Wild Card round game against Dallas, he had taken 44% of the defensive snaps.

Gholston finished the season with 49 tackles, four tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and one fumble recovery. After recording 4.5 sacks the previous season, he was held without one in 2022 though, again, that was in part a function of him not often being on the field on obvious passing downs. Gholston added two stops against the Cowboys in the playoff loss. His tackle total led all down linemen for the Buccaneers in 2022.

Career Accomplishments: Gholston has 87 starts to go with those 153 games played and has logged 39 starts since Todd Bowles brought his defensive scheme to Tampa in 2019. He has recorded 401 tackles, 58 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks, 77 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 12 passes defensed.

Through the years, Gholston has reshaped his body on several occasions to fit the roles that different defensive designers had in mind for him. He was clearly rejuvenated by the arrival of Bowles' scheme; in 2020, he posted a career-high 20 quarterback hits, which actually led all Tampa Bay defenders. Gholston has amassed 43 QB hits in four seasons with Bowles; he had 34 in his first six seasons combined.

Gholston also played in all seven postseason contests for the Buccaneers over the past three seasons, making two starts. In those outings he has recorded six tackles, one tackle for loss and four quarterback hits.

Gholston was the Buccaneers' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee this past season. He was also the Bucs' Ed Block Courage Award selection in 2017.

Other Potential Free Agent Defensive Lineman: Javon Hargrave (Eagles), Fletcher Cox (Eagles), Dalvin Tomlinson (Vikings), David Onyemata (Saints), Sheldon Rankins (Jets), Daron Payne (Commanders), Taven Bryan (Browns), Jerry Tillery (Raiders), Dre'Mont Jones (Broncos), Zach Allen (Cardinals), Larry Ogunjobi (Steelers), Matt Ioannidis (Panthers), Morgan Fox (Chargers), A'Shawn Robinson (Rams), Poona Ford (Seahawks), Shy Tuttle (Saints), Chris Wormley (Steelers), Derrick Nnadi (Chiefs)

Top Defensive Line Prospects in 2023 NFL Draft: Jalen Carter (Georgia), Bryan Bresee (Clemson), Siaki Ika (Baylor), Calijah Kancey (Pittsburgh), Mazi Smith (Michigan), Karl Brooks (Bowling Green), Moro Ojomo (Texas), Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin), Keondre Coburn (Texas), Jer'Zhan Newton (Illinois), Zacch Pickens (South Carolina), Gervon Dexter (Florida), Byron Young (Alabama), Nesta Jade Silver (Arizona State), Tyler Lacy (Oklahoma State), Darius Robinson (Missouri)

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