The Giants would like it to be back to the future for Markus Golden, as they imported a pass-rusher they hope can regain the form that not long ago made him a rising star, before he fell.
“Of course I believe it in myself,’’ Golden said Friday. “I’ve been working hard this off-season and just grinding it out. I believe I’m going to be able to bounce back and be able to come out here and help the team no matter what.’’
If Golden is able to bounce back, the Giants got themselves a steal. In 2016, his second NFL season, he finished third in the league in sacks with 12.5 and added 51 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles for the Cardinals. Golden ripped up his knee four games into the 2017 season and recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL, plus a change in the defensive scheme, combined for a forgettable 2018, as he managed just 2.5 sacks in 11 games.
Make no mistake, this is a prove-it situation, as Golden, 28, arrives on a one-year contract worth up to $4.75 million, with $2.25 million guaranteed. He is trying to re-start his career and he will be attempting a comeback with James Bettcher, the Giants’ defensive coordinator. Bettcher ran the defense in Arizona in Golden’s first three years and that familiarity is a big reason for this reunion.
“There’s a lot of great things about playing with James Bettcher,’’ Golden said. “Me and him got a really good relationship. He was tough on me my rookie year every year he coached me. I know exactly how he coaches and I loved to play for him. It’s an honor to get out there and play for him.’’
Golden played in Bettcher’s 3-4 defensive front for three seasons before Bettcher came to the Giants in 2018 and the new head coach in Arizona, Steve Wilks, put the Cardinals in a 4-3 front. The 3-4 suits Golden much better.
“It fits me perfectly,’’ Golden said. “I love the way [Bettcher’s] defense plays, his defense, it’s a lot of blitzing, a lot of pass rush guys going all over the field.
“You’re playing linebacker, you’re not just playing defensive end. A lot of different stuff, shifting different gaps. The simple thing of just standing up instead of having your hand in the dirt every down. I just love the way we play the 3-4 in James Bettcher’s scheme. We just get after it.’’
This is not one of those one-year contracts a team gives out and hopes it gets something from the player. The Giants need Golden to play, play well and produce. They probably need him to lead the team in sacks. Last season, they were led by Olivier Vernon, with only seven sacks, and he was traded to the Browns. Two rookies, defensive tackle B.J. Hill (5.5) and linebacker Lorenzo Carter (4) were next in line with sacks. Even if Hill and Carter take steps forward in their second seasons, projecting them for double-digit sacks is a leap of faith.
“Coming from where I come from it’s a blessing to be in the NFL,’’ Golden said. “On top of that, with my knee injury situation, I’m just excited to be able to be on a one-year deal, no matter what I’m just happy to be out there playing and get out there on Sunday and prove myself.’’