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Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

SIKKEMA’S STAT OF THE WEEK

When it comes to NFL free agency, it’s not about what have you done, or even, what have you done for me lately. It’s about what can you do for me from the second that ink dries on a potential contract until its expiration date.

We often see baseball organizations fail to uphold such a philosophy. For example, the Los Angeles Angels signing aging slugger Albert Pujols to an unthinkably large contract following a few MVP seasons, rewarding him for what he’s done, not valuing him for what he would actually be able to do at his age as an Angel. I know, I know, baseball is different because they have so much money they have to spend, but the point stands.

The NFL doesn’t have such money to waste that exists in the baseball system of signings. Instead, they have to be much more precise with value, and overall, the return they’ll be getting on their investments. Such a fine line has led to many teams being forced to let talented players walk in situations an organization would otherwise would have liked to keep them.

That brings us to the time at hand, and a free agent who is surely to be at the top of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ retention list. That free agent is defensive end William Gholston.

Contract value comes in four parts: Age, production, potential and prediction. So let’s take a look at those four factors through the eyes of Bucs general manager Jason Licht to give us a realistic expectation of what Gholston may be signing soon – or if he’ll be signing at all.

Age

Most of the time, age is the primary factor when it comes to contract worth. In sports, signing a player before his or her prime is something all general managers strive to do so they get the most bang for their buck by having players already on the books during their peak. This could be the case with Gholston due to where he is age-wise and experience-wise.

Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Gholston is 25 years old, and he’ll be 26 when the season starts – same age as me!  Now, most of you are probably thinking, “26 is young.” However, “young” is relative, it doesn’t always mean the best is ahead. I’ll explain.

If timed correctly with when and where they’re drafted, ages 25 and 26 can statistically be the beginning of most players’ primes. The first part of that statement is key because stats tell us that a player’s age on draft day matters.

Gholston was drafted in 2013 in the fourth round, pick No. 126, where he was 21 years old on draft day, and 22 on the first day of the season. According football perspective, the average age of players who were drafted on the opening day in drafts form 1990-2013 was 23.1 years old. However, though 23.1 was the average, the success of those prospects came from players who were much younger.

Of the players who most overachieved where they were drafted – since Gholston wasn’t a top 50 prospect – all were under the age of 23. This lines up well with where Gholston is now in his career, and should be encouraging for the Buccaneers that, when it comes to racing against Father Time, Gholston’s best days are not behind him.

Production

Production is the most important investment you get out of a player. I wouldn’t say it’s the only part of the investment, but it is the most important. There are plenty of stats that I like to believe in that aren’t necessarily recorded well or at all such as disruption statistics and awareness statistics, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason we have the common stat columns we do. Those are the plays that directly yield the desired end results.

In 2016, Gholston led all Bucs defensive linemen in tackles with 49. To top that, since coming into the league in 2013, no Buccaneers defensive lineman has had more total tackles than Gholston (188). Five-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy would be next on that list since 2013 with 153.

Gholston has done more than just wrap up at the line, though. This season he led the Buccaneers defensive line in tackles for loss with nine, and only trails McCoy for the most tackles for loss since 2013.

Relative to the rest of the league, in 2016, while missing two games with an injury, Gholston was tied for 25th in the NFL in total tackles for a defensive lineman. In 2015, where Gholston played in all 16 games, he finished 6th in the NFL in total tackles for a defensive lineman.

Four years now into his NFL career, it’s impossible to say that Gholston hasn’t produced, especially considering his draft spot. As just a 4th round pick, Gholston has statistically proven over the last two seasons that he’s capable of being a top 20 defensive end in the NFL.

Potential

Now we have to bring things down to earth a bit.

As referenced before, the length and value of a contract should only be measured in what you believe you can get out of a player from the moment they sign it on. So what kind of defensive end does Gholston have the capability of being over the next, say, four to six years of whatever deal is going to be proposed?

Bucs NT Clinton McDonald and Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

First of all, Gholston is a schematic fit. He’s a true 4-3 strongside defensive end and his production over the last three years has proven that. Gholston is more than above average, and even a top-20 edge player when it comes to containing the run game and making tackles in the backfield from a four-man front. He has the body type to take on all kinds of blocks and has been reliable with regards to his health.

But the big contracts – one that Gholston will surely be searching for – are often given to defensive ends who can rush the passer. Gholston has never finished any season with more than three sacks, as he did in 2016. He recorded three in each of the past two seasons, and two in each of his first two seasons. Those numbers are consistent, but hardly anything to boast as a rusher.

Sacks aren’t always the tell-all stat for pass rushing, however, unfortunately for Gholston, in 2016, his name was absent from the top 200 defensive players when it came to quarterback hurries, too, which is often a better indicator of disruption on a pocket – McCoy, Robert Ayers and Noah Spence led the Buccaneers with 19, 12 and 12, respectively. Gholston was on the list last year, but only finished with one more QB hurry than fellow rotational defensive end Jacquies Smith, who was on injured reserve after Week 1.

So the numbers tell us what you’ve read over the past year and that is: Gholston is a stout run defender, but isn’t much of a pass rusher – or hasn’t been much of one yet. That leads us to our final category.

Prediction

Before deciding on what number to offer a player, every general manager must add up the previous three categories to come up with a prediction. He has to look at the age of the player relative to when he came in the league, quantify that with the type of production the player has shown to be capable of and if it’s on the rise, and be honest with how he sees a player’s potential and limitations.

The biggest question mark for Licht when it comes to what kind of contract to offer Gholston will be how effective of a pass rusher he believe Gholston can be. Gholston and his agent will likely be looking for a pass rusher’s contract. I’m not talking about the kind of money Von Miller or J.J. Watt make, but chances are Gholston is going to try to capitalize off age and potential to swing Licht’s thinking into believing he deserves money that would be worthy of a player who will accumulate the same amount of tackles, but double the yearly sack total to six or so – something that hasn’t been seen.

Another variable to all this is that Licht knows he has Smith, who is coming off a torn ACL, and even a potentially drafted defensive end waiting to come into 2017 as situational pass rushers or replacement. This means that Licht doesn’t necessarily have to sign Gholston to a $10 million-plus per year deal that requires him to be a pass rusher. He could, in fact, simply offer Gholston a top-10 deal for a 4-3 run stopper in the $4.25 million – $6 million per year range like that of Los Angeles’ William Hayes, Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson or Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn and not budge. Or he could go a bit higher given Gholston’s age and potential.

Which prediction will Licht believe in most? We can’t know for sure, but defensive ends projected to be drafted in the later rounds could sway his opinion. Here’s one guy who might do just that.

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About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: trevor@pewterreport.com
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SaskBucs
4 years ago

That seems a little too high but I am taking it. The Bucs are not in a position yet to be letting talent and depth walk. There are too many holes to fill and Gholston has proven to be an effective member of the line. He was sorely missed in that Saints game.

Brandonges
4 years ago

Great article Trevor. Love the premise and in-depth analysis. I think at the end of the day, I’d be fine with Gholston making the $7.5M average you suggest above if Licht structures it to be guaranteed for only the first two seasons like he typically does. It is certainly over paying based on a lack of sacks and PFF grades, but the Bucs are really in a bind when it comes to run stopping defensive ends. The run defense took a huge step back against the Saints and Cowboys when Gholston went down with injury. I think that stretch proved… Read more »

Garv
4 years ago

Be smart. If Gholston won’t sign for a reasonable Buccaneer offer then let him test FA. If he really wants to stay in Tampa he’ll come back and the Buccaneers can either match it or up it a bit. I’d like him to stay but not at an unreasonable contract and although he is good against the run it’s the sack numbers that get the big money in AF for DE’s.

fredster
4 years ago

Never real impressed with him. We did drop off though when he wasn’t in the line up…still don’t see paying him that much honestly but I’m certainly no expert on pay/production like some guys here. Lol.

To think we let Michael Bennett walk because we didn’t think he was worth that….dumb dumb dumb.

Garv
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
4 years ago

Yeah, so was drafting Vinnie Testaverde instead of keeping Steve Young but it’s OLD NEWS!!! Get over it.

nitey
4 years ago

I guess it would depend on what the numbers were for the 1st couple of years and at what point the team could get out of the contract if the projected production didn’t match up with the next seasons salary. On the whole though, I’d probably take the contract.

nitey
Reply to  nitey
4 years ago

BTW, excellent analysis. Thanks!

stlbucsfan
4 years ago

I appreciate the article but the Bucs have too much cap room to even consider letting our top in house FA walk over a million or two difference. Alterraun Verner is still stealing checks, Evan Smith is still stealing checks, Doug snorted up our money and even JR Sweezy has stolen a year of money with no play. We have other ways to save money, losing a 25 year old DE who hasnt peaked yet is the last thing we should be considering. If Licht is even considering this I would urge him to go watch film of our run… Read more »

macabee
4 years ago

Trevor, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m an old guy with lots of free time and I put together lists for my own personal reference. Lol. Just in case you are one of the fans that would like to help Jason Licht spend money in free agency, here are the prominent 2017 free agents and their market valuations as reported by Spotrac.com. For your convenience, I listed them by position of need and projected value. Wide Receiver WR Alshon Jeffrey (26) 12.2mil WR Terelle Pryor (27) 8.9mil WR Pierre Garcon (30) 8.7mil WR Kenny Stills (24) 8.2mil WR DeSean… Read more »

cgmaster27
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

I am not going to lie, I don’t see Tampa going after the big names such as yourself, but to get Gilmore and Berry would lock down our secondary for quite some time and give us some size, which we sorely need. I also really like the way Bouye played this year.

wnb0395
Reply to  cgmaster27
4 years ago

I would love to see Berry signed also but he prob isnt going anywhere. The chiefs will resign him or franchise him after the way he played this season. Poe would be an interesting pick up though. Poe next to McCoy would be crazy. Alshon Jefferies would be another interesting pick up. He would be another big young target and would be one hell of a #2 WR.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

I honestly think most of these are substantially below what they’ll ultimately sign for. Looks to me like Spotrac is off quite a bit on the low side with a lot of these.

David DeLeon
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

I would throw money at Bell if there was a chance of him leaving, but i doubt it. Kawann Short or Poe as well.

macabee
Reply to  David DeLeon
4 years ago

David,

Here’s another opinion on the players you ask about. I would have no idea! Enjoy.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2688899-2017-nfl-free-agency-projecting-the-price-tag-of-the-top-20-available-players

cgmaster27
4 years ago

Another great breakdown Trevor. Your articles just keep getting better. I for one and big on signing WIll because A. he is still so young, B, we aren’t in a position to lose good depth, and C, he’s big enough to play inside as well and that versatility is a good thing. You don’t overpay for him of course, but for the salary you had him at, the 6.5 5 mill a year range, would be just fine with me. We should be cutting some dead weight salaries anyways so why not?

seat26
4 years ago

Gholston is an example of being patient with a pick that was a value pick to begin with. It took him a few years but he has developed into a strong Defensive lineman, and he is worth the money. GIve him a good contract, lock him down, and lets go get some more.

BucsPhan2Phear
4 years ago

I hope Mark Cook understands you may need a new contract too. Again, excellent detail with original research. I think too many people have forgotten that Jacquees Smith ( Our best pass rusher last year) and George Johnson (A guy we traded for) are still on the roster. We would be able to get both of them for lower than cost that will Gholston would cost with both under contract…for 2017. A run stoping defensive end in a 4-3 may not be an appropriate place to spend that type of $$ in a 4-3 in this system given the history… Read more »

plopes808
4 years ago

Granted, sacks are what earns the big $ for a DE and Gholston has not produced much in that category. However, his value and production in the run game cant be denied. We have Smith and Spence as our pash rushers, we need a good run stopper for running downs and there isnt a better option out there at the moment.

In summary, pay the man please! We have too much cap space to justify letting him walk. Put a few prove it incentives in there to protect the team and let him earn the money…he deserves the opportunity.

yuccaneers
4 years ago

Backloading Gholston contract makes absolutely no sense! You would want to front load it – have the bulk of his guaranteed and P5 coming in the first year or two. Especially when you look at the roster as a whole and look at it in three-year increments of when contract are set to expire. Between now and 2019 the team will have to make some decisions, on what many believe is it core foudnation of players. Winston is set hit his option in 2019. Which means if the team exercises it, it will be roughly $22M – if they can… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  yuccaneers
4 years ago

I’d prefer to wait on Mike, unless he’s going to take a significant discount on his market value by getting an extension so early. Outside of that, I don’t think there’s really any reason to extend him right now – we just take on a lot more risk, with no real reward to balance it out. We need to pick up Mike’s 5th year option within the next month or so, and then start negotiations. If Mike and his agent are set on being paid full market value for his second deal, then you make him play 2017 before giving… Read more »

yuccaneers
4 years ago

One last thing, while Gholston age might be a factor in creating some additional value on the open market – there are plenty of quality run stopping defensive ends that can be had in the $3-$4M range every off-season. To over pay for a player that offers little upside after four years in the league of creating pressure and paying him like he is a mid-tier pass rusher is ludicrous, in your editorial you pose the question then you use data points for players who are al considered pass rusher in differing tiers.

wnb0395
Reply to  yuccaneers
4 years ago

Thats exactly what the Bucs said when they let Bennet walk years ago.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  wnb0395
4 years ago

Eh, that’s not a great comparison. Bennett had already shown himself to be an incredibly disruptive pass rusher. He totaled 9 sacks in his last season here, in addition to leading or nearly leading the league in hits/pressures. He was also versatile in the biggest way, able to be a dominant pass rusher outside on the end or inside as a DT. Gholston isn’t and never will be the pass rushing force Bennett is (and was when he was here, by the way).

Naplesfan
Reply to  yuccaneers
4 years ago

The problem with your reasoning is that Gholston is a known and proven quantity, and all those mythical cheap guys out there are not known or proven quantities – that is, known and proven to the Bucs coaches and proven performers in our defense playing side by side with the rest of our players.

The real cost of uncertainty always has to be added to all those supposedly cheap alternatives. As wnb0395 writes, failure to account for that uncertainty, over and over again, is how you end up as the Bucs prior to Light and Koetter – i.e., perennial losers.

GoldsonAges
4 years ago

Good article.
I am happy if they want to pay him even up to 7.5 million, but as always prefer it to be front loaded as per the Glazers MO so he doesnt cause any salary cap dramas in the final years of the deal if he is injured or ineffetive and needs to be cut loose.

scubog
4 years ago

I’ve always been a believer in trying to retain and reward players who have earned it and refrain from seeking outside help in free agency that often fails to produce the desired results. Gholston is one of those guys whose efforts can easily go unnoticed (unless the gets a penalty flag) by those only impressed by sacks. The closer observer can easily see #92’s worth when it comes to defending the run. All teams declare they “want to establish the run” and many would continue to do it if successful. Just as the Cowboys and Saints did in Gholston’s absence.… Read more »

Buc 1976
4 years ago

Sige him and see if someone like maybe Cleavland would trade for him. Maybe San Francisco might. If we can’t trade him this year maybe next.
I would like to have the kid from Villanova if he is available in third or fourth round he is very long and at some point be better than Gholston.

Buc 1976
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
4 years ago

My slip up!
I would like to know what you think of the Villanova DE.

JayBuc52
4 years ago

I also believe that past performance is a future predictor. I saw what happened when he wan’t in the lineup and this defense just wasn’t the same. He had a lot to do with the 5 game win streak. You can’t break the bank for a non-pass rusher but I think you try to keep him because there are no good long term alternatives in the draft or young enough free agents.

toofamiliar17
4 years ago

Great work, Trevor, as usual. I miss you at BucsNation, but PR is much better for having your player and film analysis on hand. Keep it up. There’s sometimes a difference between what a player is truly worth and what he’s worth to a particular team. I don’t think Gholston is likely to truly deliver on a deal that pays him like that. That said, in OUR specific situation – particularly the part where we have a ton of cap room – I think WE’RE better off paying him a bit above his true value than by letting him walk.… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
4 years ago

I hope you’re right. If I was going to throw a number out as to what I think he’s genuinely worth, I’d say something like $5.5M per year. The reality is that not only is run defense not THAT difficult to find from a DE, but it’s really not all that valuable, either. Even for teams as a whole….it’s just not that important. Consider this: 7 playoff teams found themselves among the bottom 16 teams in the league in YPC allowed, including the Falcons, who of course play for the SB this week. Last year, it was more of the… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  toofamiliar17
4 years ago

toofamiliar1 – I had a few minutes to kill and downloaded all of the 2016 team stats for passing yards against and rushing yards against, and passing yards for and rushing yards for, for each of the 32 teams. Then I plopped them into an Excel spreadsheet along with the team total wins (not counting ties), and ran a quick R squared regression of each stat line to team wins. Sounds like more work that it is but it’s quick and easy in Excel. The bottom line is that none of the passing or rushing stats, for or against, correlated… Read more »

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

That’s really interesting. Thanks for doing that and for sharing. Very interesting results. I might have to reconsider my above expressed viewpoint…. One thought, though – I generally much prefer efficiency stats (i.e. yards per carry and yards per attempt) to volume stats (raw yardage totals). It’s very possible that the teams that allowed the most rushing yardage in the league did so largely because they were down by significant margins more often and for longer periods, a setting that always results in an opponent running more than they otherwise would. Similarly, if a team had a big lead, their… Read more »

deeznuts
4 years ago

I think 5-6$ million per year over 4 years with ~7million guaranteed Is reasonable. I think it would hurt both parties by him leaving. Great run stuffer, not a good pass rusher. Mostly a situational guy (1st down, 3rd and short, goaline). He can also kick inside and play DT in a pinch. Licht should talk to Kwon and lavonte first..theyve made a living playing behind that giant. I’m still holding my breath in hopes that he’ll turn out to be as good as his cousin, Vernon of OSU, was supposed to be.

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