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Film study: Is Markus Golden worth top-tier pass rusher money?

The Giants have difficult decision to make with Golden

New York Giants v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Markus Golden had a fantastic first season for the New York Giants and he epitomizes why a player should bet on himself. Golden was a promising young player for the Arizona Cardinals before he had a devastating knee injury in the first half of the 2017 season. When Golden was available after a sub-par 2018 campaign (11 games, 2.5 sacks), general manager Dave Gettleman reunited him with defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

Bettcher was Golden’s defensive coordinator in 2016 when he showed the poteential to become one of the league’s best pass rushers with 12.5 sacks, 16 tackles for a loss, and 4 forced fumbles. Back with Bettcher in New York and healthier than at any time since his knee injury, Golden amassed 10 sacks, along with 13 tackles for a loss, in 2019, while providing leadership to a young defensive front.

Recording double digit sacks on a one year prove it deal is a successful way to play oneself into a long term contract; this my friends, is the dilemma Gettleman, a general manager known to be cut throat with aging players, is up against - should the Giants retain Golden and pay him elite pass rusher money or let him walk and hope to acquire talent at the EDGE position elsewhere?

I am a huge fan of Golden’s. He is an effective two-way player with large, powerful, hands that stun opponents at the point of attack. He plays much faster than his athletic testing would suggest and he has elite competitive toughness, which he displays with an incredibly active motor that led to a lot of tackles for a loss due to his exceptional backside pursuit. According to Pro Football Focus, Golden had 37 hurries and quarterback 15 hits. The argument that he had a career year is just, but he’ll be 29 once free agency starts, he’s no spring chicken. Before I dive deep into my thoughts on this topic, I think it’s wise to review all of his sacks and how he acquired them.

Let’s start with the two sacks that Golden acquired while being an unblocked defender. Both of these sacks are pretty cut and dry; there were miscommunications by the Jets and Eagles in protection. Easy statistics for Golden, but that was far from the norm.

One of the better aspects of a good pass rusher is an ability to counter inside and Golden earned three sacks this way during the 2019 season. Golden starts wide of Charles Leno Jr. (72) and he explodes up the arc from the wide 9 position; Golden opens Leno up with his explosiveness and utilizes a double swipe move to force Leno to overcommit up the arc. Once Leno is slightly off kilter, Golden uses a strong inside club combined with an outside arm over move to win inside and get the sack. Golden combined explosiveness, multiple moves, and processing to know how to maximize his leverage and timing in order to win.

The second clip is against rookie Cody Ford (70) in his second career start. Ford starts sloppy by wildly punching out and not gaining depth on his kick slide. Golden easily turns the corner and gets his hips pointed directly at quarterback Josh Allen. Ford is able to recover, but in doing so he leaves himself vulnerable to any sort of inside counter, which is what Golden utilizes here. Golden dips through the unbalanced contact and uses a strong hump move, with his inside arm, to create separation against the rookie tackle. The hump move requires brute strength, leverage, and an ability to bend while being engaged in contact. Golden displays this at a high level in this rep and is awarded with the sack.

The third clip is again from the wide position against Morgan Moses (76). Golden wins with a low pad level here and gets inside of Moses’ wide punch. From there Golden swipes the arms away and wins the edge, but he sees rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins step up in the pocket. With Moses’ momentum going up the arc and the fact that he’s off balance, Golden sticks his upfield foot into the ground and assists Moses’ inertia up the arc, combined with a strong inside club to provide the inside alley to Haskins. These are three reps that show an effective use of inside counter moves against marginal to adequate competition levels, all from a wide alignment.

The three clips above are three sacks that Golden earned while being used in a creative manner by Bettcher. Golden was tasked on inside stunts above and did a very good job with these assignments. These sacks show that relentless nature Golden embodies, while also showing quickness, good ankle flexion, and very good vision to see holes and know when to explode through them while executing these twist and stunts.

These two sacks are opposites of each other. The first one is Golden lined up wide on Cody Ford again and Golden beats Ford with speed up the arc, but mostly because Ford made a critical error. Ford should have vertical set Golden, due to him being on an island against a wide rusher with no RB or TE help, but Ford tries to 45 degree set Golden and he doesn’t get nearly the depth that is necessary. Allen does a poor job feeling blindside pressure and the end result is a sack for Golden. The second sack in this clip is Golden lined up over Marshall Newhouse (72) at the 5-Technique position in a two point stance; David Mayo (55) blitzing on the edge forces running back Sony Michel to step outside, which leaves Newhouse in a 1-on-1 situation against Golden. Lawrence slants inside from the 3-Technique position and provides an inside alley for Golden to outleverage Newhouse. Golden dips his outside shoulder and bends right through Newhouse’s blocking attempt to sack Tom Brady in the pocket. Very strong move inside from Golden, beating a much inferior tackle in Marshall Newhouse.

Then there are these last two sacks. The clip against the redskins is probably my favorite sack of Golden’s from the season, granted Haskins holds onto the football a bit too long in this rep. Golden starts wide of the tight end Vernon Davis (85) and handles the chip from Davis with ease. Golden then explodes squared up to Donald Penn (72) and initiates contact with lower pad level. Golden uses his pure power to push Penn back, while almost simultaneously using his outside arm to pull Penn’s outside shoulder down to establish a half man relationship. Once Golden does this, he follows through strong with that pull and brings his inside arm over the top of Penn to shed the block effectively and get the sack. This rep is a textbook push-pull armover. The second clip is against a tight end Kyle Rudolph (82). Golden uses an inside arm swat of Rudolph’s outside arm and takes advantage of Rudolph’s poor and slow footwork. Golden bends the edge, corners around Rudolph’s poor form with ease to earn the sack on Kirk Cousins.

Final thoughts

Golden is a good pass rusher in the NFL. He has multiple moves, can bend through contact while showing solid ankle and hip flexion, and he possesses solid power and very strong hands at the point of attack. He ranks 100th in rushing defense, according to PFF, but I watch the Giants games intently and I saw Golden set the edge with strength on several occasions, while also being an excellent backside pursuit defender. I can throw a lot of adulation towards Golden, for he personifies what it means to be a Giant; he conducted himself well on and off the field, but I can’t justify paying Golden the contract that he may have played himself into. I don’t view Markus Golden as a number one pass rusher on a playoff caliber team, he’s more of a number two, similar to what he was in Arizona behind Chandler Jones and Calias Campbell in 2016. He had a phenomenal season, but most of his stats were against meager tackles or were the product of excellent defensive scheming. Golden possesses multiple moves and a lot of other important aspects to playing the EDGE position in the NFL, but not to the level of getting compensated top 10 at the position. The 10th highest paid EDGE player in the NFL is Chandler Jones and Za’Darius Smith who both make 16.5 million dollars a year. According to, the Giants are looking to have 58 million dollars of Cap Space; let’s take 20 of that away because Gettleman stated he wanted 20 million dollars for the season, presumably to resign players midseason or bring in new guys if injures occur, so we’re at 38 million. Now let’s assume the Giants cut Alec Ogletree, Rhett Ellison, Antoine Bethea, and Kareem Martin. That brings the total number of cap space to 59 million dollars, with that 20 million preserved. If Golden were to be rewarded a 4 year 66 million dollar deal, with an average of 16.5 million, then the Giants would have 42.5 million dollars heading into free agency. That money would be allocated towards finding a true number one pass rusher, a deep half safety, offensive line depth, linebacker help, and corner depth. Golden is a very solid player, but allocating top 10 EDGE rusher money into a player that is almost 30, and is coming off a career year, may not be the wisest investment, and seems to go against everything Gettleman has shown from his past experiences with the Giants and in Carolina. Golden ranked 22nd in hurries and 15th in overall pressures, while playing in a familiar scheme. He’s a phenomenal player to have, but not a true number one pass rusher for a playoff-bound team, and that’s the hope for the Giants. Golden earned 5.5 sacks on third down and 3.5 of them on first down. Sacks aren’t the only metric to warrant merit, but at the end of the day, seeing how players acquire sacks can tell part of the story. Winning 1-on-1 matchups against high level opponents isn’t something that consistently showed up throughout the season. Can Golden do it - yes; but is it consistent enough to warrant a huge payday, I would say no. I would absolutely love for Golden to be retained in New York, but at the right price for the player and for the team.