By the numbers: Linebacker Markus Golden returns to the desert
A player who once looked like he’d become an Arizona Cardinals star, Markus Golden is returning to the desert after the New York Giants traded the 29-year-old linebacker back to the organization that drafted him.
Although 2016 was a disappointing season for the Cardinals, Golden emerged as one of the better defenders in the league. The second-year pro led the defense with 12.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.
His next season was thrown to dust when he tore his ACL, though, and he played 11 games the following season before the Giants signed him to a one-year deal in free agency.
Here are some stats that define Golden’s NFL career and the trade:
As a reminder for how good Markus Golden was in 2016: He was tied for third in the entire league with 12.5 sacks. He was tied for eighth with four forced fumbles. His 22 quarterback hits led a Cardinals team that also had Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell.
Golden had 51 total tackles, 41 of them solo, and 16 tackles for loss.
He started the season consistently, picking up a sack each of the first five weeks and ending that streak with a two-sack, 10-tackle performance in a 33-21 win over the San Francisco 49ers. He was then limited at getting to the quarterback over the following several weeks, but ended the season with a bang:
Over the final three weeks, Golden had 5.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a pass defended.
This stretch set up optimism for him as a Cardinal moving forward.
That excitement was quelled in Week 4 of the 2017 season, when Golden tore his ACL. He missed the remainder of the year and returned for 11 games in 2018, but was not the same player, getting just 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss that season.
He signed a one-year deal with the Giants that offseason to prove he could still contribute.
Golden wouldn’t miss a game for New York. He had a bounce-back year, starting and playing all 16 games, proving that he could stay healthy and contribute.
He also appeared in all seven New York games in the 2020 season before the trade with the Cardinals went through.
Golden wasn’t just a healthy starter; he was a productive one.
Statistically, this 2019 season may have been better than 2016: Golden had 72 total tackles, 27 quarterback hits, 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
His 10th sack earned him a $1 million bonus. Initially ruled as half a sack, a stat correction altered it to a full Golden sack and triggered the incentive.
Golden was the best Giants’ defender last season, and this incentive showed he could still hit expectations.
36% of snaps
Despite Golden’s success in his first year with the Giants, which led to another one-year deal, he played little over New York’s first seven games.
He was on the field for just 36% of the snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and started just one game.
Over his 175 snaps, Golden recorded 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and six quarterback hits.
As Revenge of the Birds reporter Blake Murphy notes, this stacks up similarly to leading Cardinals linebackers despite playing fewer snaps.
Haason Reddick, who has played 226 snaps, is credited by Pro Football Focus as accumulating 15 tackles, four sacks, six quarterback hits and four tackles for loss.
Kennard has played 176 snaps and has nine tackles, two sacks and five quarterback hits.
Reddick’s numbers are better, but it’s not outlandish to hope that when Golden finds a consistent role and more playing time, he can improve his numbers to at least that level.
Arizona traded a sixth-round pick for one year of Golden. The 1-6 Giants are happy to rid themselves of Golden’s contract and acquire an asset they can use down the road, while the Cardinals are assuming the linebacker will be worth more than a sixth-round pick.
Based on precedent, there’s a good chance Golden will be.
On average, Cardinals sixth-round draft picks from the 1980 through 2018 drafts have played about 33 games in their careers. Removing the four outliers who have exceeded 100 games – Justin Bethel, Reggie Wells, Jay Novacek, Dave Ahrens – and that number drops below 21.
Arizona gave up relatively little to get a year of Golden and beef up the linebacker position as they make a postseason push.
There’s no assurance Golden will return to his 2016 level, but if his 2019 stats were not a fluke or a simple result of being the best player on the defense, he can help the Cardinals as they pursue the playoffs.
If they do reach the postseason, it’s hard to imagine there would be any complaints about missing out on a sixth-round pick.