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2024 Buccaneers Free Agent Focus: Will Gholston

One of the longest-tenured players in franchise history, Gholston has brought value to the Bucs throughout his career as either a starter or a rotational player, and he's a pending free agent in March


Only five men have put on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game day uniform more often than Will Gholston. Only two of them are defensive players. None are defensive linemen.

In 2023, Gholston became just the eighth player to record 11 or more seasons as a Buccaneer, one year after his current teammate, Lavonte David, became the seventh man on that list. By season's end he had pushed his career total to 169 regular season games played for Tampa Bay, a remarkable achievement in and of itself for a former fourth-round draft pick.

Gholston does not have any Pro Bowl appearances on his NFL resume but he does have a Super Bowl championship ring and he's been a valuable asset to the Buccaneers' defense for a very long time. The question now is, will that run continue and will he join David, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, Paul Gruber and Dave Moore as the only players with a dozen Buccaneer seasons? Gholston has played each of the last two seasons on one-year deals, possibly indicating that he's taking his decision about continuing his playing career on a year-to-year basis.

Gholston is one of 18 players from Tampa Bay's 2023 roster who could become unrestricted free agents on March 13, and it's not likely the team will be able to retain all of them for the 2024 season. Priorities on that list will be set and pursued. 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 2024 Free Agent Focus rundown:

This list is subject to change based on potential roster moves in the coming weeks. However, we will continue today with one of the Bucs' unsung heroes of the last decade.

Player: Will Gholston

Position: Defensive Lineman

Age at the Start of the 2024 Season: 33

Experience: Entering 12th NFL season

How Acquired: Drafted in the fourth round (16th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Previous Contract(s): Gholston initially got the four-year deal that has been standard for all non-first round draft picks since 2011, a contract that took him through the 2016 season. He signed a new five-year deal just before the start of free agency in 2017 and again completed it, becoming a potential free agent again in 2022. He has played the last two seasons on a pair of one-year contracts, most recently returning just before the start of training camp last summer.

Rank in Pro Football Focus **Top 200 NFL Free Agents** for 2023: Not ranked.

2023 Performance: Gholston played in 16 regular season games and both playoff contests for the Buccaneers in 2023. While he had started 39 games over the previous four seasons in Todd Bowles' defense, he was in more of a reserve role in his 11th campaign after the arrival of first-round pick Calijah Kancey and the development of 2022 second-round pick Logan Hall. Gholston started one game each in the regular season and the postseason and was on the field for 24% of the defensive snaps in the games he played.

Gholston finished the season with 19 tackles, two passes defensed and his first career interception. That long-awaited pick came on a pass deflected by a blitzing Antoine Winfield Jr., with Gholston leaping in the middle of a scrum of Bucs and Bills big men to haul it in at the Buffalo 23. That set up a two-play game-tying touchdown drive in the second quarter.

Still valued for his stout run defense, Gholston contributed to a Buccaneers crew that finished third in the league against the ground game, allowing just 95.3 yards per game.

Career Accomplishments: Gholston has played in 169 regular season games with 88 starts, and he's appeared in at least 14 games in every season since 2014. While playing under multiple different defensive coordinators he has reshaped his body on multiple occasions to better fit the current scheme.

Gholston's career totals include 420 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 58 tackles for loss, 77 quarterback hits, one interception, 14 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. In nine playoff games, including three starts, he has added another eight tackles and four quarterback hits.

One of Gholston's best seasons came during the Buccaneers' run to the Super Bowl LV title in 2020. In addition to contributing 3.0 sacks he also led the entire defense with 20 quarterback hits. The next year, Gholston recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks and added 11 more quarterback hits for a division-winning Bucs team that tied for the NFL's best regular season record.

Other Potential Free Agent Defensive Linemen: Chris Jones (Chiefs), Justin Madubuike (Ravens), Christian Wilkins (Dolphins), Leonard Williams (Seahawks), D.J. Reader (Bengals), Grover Stewart (Colts), Sheldon Rankins (Titans), Teair Tart (Titans), Fletcher Cox (Eagles), Calais Campbell (Falcons), DaQuan Jones (Bills), Maurice Hurst (Browns), Quinton Jefferson (Jets), Javon Kinlaw (49ers), Shelby Harris (Browns), A'Shawn Robinson (Giants)

Top Defensive Line Prospects in 2024 NFL Draft: Byron Murphy (Texas), Jer'Zhan Newton (Illinois), Kris Jenkins (Michigan), Michael Hall (Missouri), T'Vondre Sweat (Texas), Brandon Dorlus (Oregon), Leonard Taylor (Miami), Michael Hall (Ohio State), Justin Eboigbe (Alabama), Maason Smith (LSU), Braden Fiske (Florida State)

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