Photos from William Gholston's 2016 campaign.
The National Football League's free agency period begins on Thursday. Will Gholston's second chapter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, began on Monday.
Gholston and the Buccaneers avoided free agency by agreeing on a five-year contract extension that runs through the 2021 season. That's great news for both the team and the fifth-year defensive end, who has steadily developed into one of the league's best run-stoppers. Gholston, a fourth-round pick out of Michigan State in 2013, was due to become an unrestricted free agent on Thursday and likely would have been in high demand.
The new deal, the first in place for any of the Buccaneers' pending 2017 free agents, is technically an extension because it was executed prior to the start of free agency, when 2016 contracts were still in effect. Tampa Bay began the week with 17 players who could become unrestricted free agents on Thursday; Gholston, who started the first 14 games of last season before missing the last two with an elbow injury, was clearly a top priority for the team.
That 2016 campaign was the best of Gholston's career so far, but he has been on a steady upward trajectory since he entered the league. His games-started totals have risen from two in his rookie season to nine in 2014, 11 in 2015 and 14 last fall. He also tied his career highs in 2016 with nine tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks while contributing 49 tackles, seven quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Gholston's extension is the second piece of good news regarding continuity on the Buccaneers' defense, which saw massive improvement in the second half of 2016 under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. Smith interviewed for several NFL head coaching vacancies in January but elected to stay in his post with the Buccaneers. Now the retention of Gholston will help Smith's defense continue its strong development. Over the final eight games of 2016, the Buccaneers ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 17.1 points per outing.
In four seasons with the Buccaneers, Gholston has amassed 188 tackles, 10.0 sacks, eight passes defensed, 26 quarterback pressures, 29 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.