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.
Table of Contents
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 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.
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.