The Tampa Bay Buccaneers today re-signed defensive end William Gholston to a five-year, $37 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed — presumably the first two years of his contract. All of that per Adam Caplan of ESPN.
So what does that mean for the Bucs going forward, and especially their free agency and 2017 NFL draft plans? Let’s see.
Gholston is one of the league’s top run-defending defensive ends, though he doesn’t make much of an impact as a pass-rusher. He’s also versatile enough to play both defensive end and defensive tackle, the latter particularly on passing downs. He’s likely to platoon as a starter with Robert Ayers and Noah Spence, and perhaps Jacquies Smith, depending on how he recovers from his injury.
That leaves the Bucs with a defensive end rotation of four players, plus last year’s undrafted rookie Channing Ward. Three of those — Ayers, Gholston and Ward — are also versatile to play defensive tackle, where the Bucs have Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, as well as various rotational players.
That doesn’t leave the Bucs a lot of room along their defensive line at first glance, but defensive coordinator Mike Smith might have other plans. The Bucs’ defense has traditionally revolved around quick, penetrating defensive linemen (see: Gerald McCoy) in a 4-3 alignment, but Smith likes more versatile and bigger players — like Ayers, and Gholston, and Ward.
If the Bucs move to more 3-4 alignments and a more versatile defensive line in general, then there’s still plenty of room to maneuver in free agency and the draft. An approach like that would push Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith into dedicated edge rusher roles, with a rotation of bigger defensive tackle/end hybrids on the inside, and on the outside on rushing downs.
If that’s the case, the Bucs are likely to target at least one more big guy (they’ve been linked to Calais Campbell, though they could also re-sign Akeem Spence), and probably some edge rush depth in the draft, where Spence is the only reliable player they have right now. And while Spence is a promising edge rusher, his lackluster run defense skills left the Bucs vulnerable on the ground last season.
That kind of approach would leave the Bucs with a likely starting defensive line of Robert Ayers, William Gholston, Gerald McCoy and Calais Campbell or another new big lineman, while Noah Spence, Jacquies Smith and possibly another edge rusher would come in on passing downs, and Clinton McDonald and Channing Ward would rotate in as needed.
Signing Gholston gives the Bucs the run defender they need, and some added depth along the defensive line. But it doesn’t mean they’re done adding players at that position by any means.