TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end William Gholston could have waited to test the free-agent market and even taken visits with other teams eager to court him, trying to see who would outbid the other in a quest for a lucrative second contract.
Instead, on the eve of free agency's legal tampering period, the 25-year-old Gholston, who established himself as a marquee run-stuffer and an attractive option for a number of teams, re-signed with the Bucs. They compensated him well -- he'll average $5.5 million per year and that figure could rise above $7 million if he meets certain incentives -- but that's not ultimately what compelled him to sign on the dotted line.
It was because Tampa had become home, and a team that had endured three head-coaching changes and two general managers during his four years there had managed to become his family. And they were there for him when he needed them most.
Just days before Christmas this past year, his father, Deacon T. William Gholston, passed away after a difficult battle with cancer. Gholston had brought him to Tampa to take care of him. He said his father was a "strong pillar" that he could lean on, but terminal illness takes a toll.
"It was tough," Gholston said. "The guys in this organization helped out so much. They were behind me the whole way. If I needed anything, they gave it to me. And I remembered that during this whole process."
He also suffered a dislocated elbow at the most critical point of the season, when the Bucs' five-game win streak was snapped with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 15. He was unable to play during those final two games, but his teammates were there for him to pick him up.
"It's more than football here," Gholston said. "It’s a family atmosphere and these guys really look out for you in the long run."
He credits a long list of players -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, former Bucs defensive end Michael Johnson (now with the Cincinnati Bengals), defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, defensive tackle Akeem Spence, linebacker Lavonte David, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and the numerous coaches that he's worked with -- for helping mold him.
Several of those teammates took to social media Monday to celebrate his return.
Congrats to my brotha for life @WILL_GHOLSTON2!! Great to have you back!!— Gerald McCoy (@Geraldini93) March 6, 2017
Yessir!!! A Dog is a Dog !! https://t.co/MdpbZGzpAt— Kwon Alexander (@Showtime17Kwon) March 6, 2017
Congrats @WILL_GHOLSTON2 on the deal you earned it all the way ✊🏿— Akeem spence (@AkeemSpence) March 6, 2017
"I came into the league as a little knucklehead so, I’ve matured a lot and I’ve had an opportunity to be around some guys consistently to help me in the locker room," Gholston said. "I feel like overall, I’ve become a man these last four years."