First came Calais Campbell. Then it was Chandler Jones’ turn. Jason Pierre-Paul cashed in next, with the Giants.
In a span of 10 days in March 2017, three pass-rushers signed free-agent contracts in excess of a combined $200 million. And none were coming off 2016 seasons as productive as Markus Golden’s.
You can almost imagine Golden — who notched 12.5 sacks playing for the Cardinals alongside Campbell (who left for the Jaguars) and Jones (who re-signed) — drooling in anticipation of the market when his contract expired.
When the time finally came last offseason, however, Golden still was recovering from an ACL tear in 2017 and had to settle for a one-year, $3.75 million deal with the bargain-shopping Giants.
Well, good things come to those who wait, as Golden should be an in-demand free agent this offseason. It will force the Giants into a difficult position: Commit long-term or let him go and further weaken a short-handed outside pass rush?
“Of course, I’d love to be here,” Golden told The Post. “I’ve enjoyed coming to work every day, the culture and the people within the organization. People don’t understand you are not just around your teammates. There are so many people you meet. Everybody here has been great. But you know how business goes.”
Golden is very familiar with business. He drew interest from the Raiders, Chiefs and others, but no one was willing to commit big bucks in 2019 based on his performance in 2016.
Asked to prove it again, he has. Golden has 7.5 sacks — others have disappeared upon standard mid-week review from Elias Sports Bureau and the NFL, or been negated by penalty — and has played 81 percent of the snaps, the most within the Giants’ defensive front seven.
“One day my kids are going to grow up and they are going to hear how dad faced some adversity,” Golden said.
“I want them to know, ‘Your dad fought hard and he didn’t back down.’ Studies say if you do your part on the field, everything else will take care of itself. I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘I’m going to do this or get this’ because that’s not in my control. Hopefully, before the season is over we can get some more wins. That’s what I want to do.”
Golden isn’t highly regarded by the analytics at Pro Football Focus — he is ranked as the No. 97 edge rusher in the NFL — but he showed his worth as a three-down player last week, when he stopped a third-and-1 run for a loss, forcing a punt and giving the Giants one more chance to rally.
“It doesn’t surprise me: You put his back against the wall and he’s going to come out swinging,” said Kareem Martin, Golden’s teammate on the Cardinals and Giants. “That’s what’s happened now. A lot of people in the past doubted him. From day one he hurt his knee, I knew he was going to come back to form.”
Giants coach Pat Shurmur credits Golden as tough, competitive and instinctual.
“He’s not as big as some of the guys, but he has a way of having an impact on the run game like he did there,” Shurmur said. “I think he’s been a really good addition to our team.”
Golden thinks his run defense is “overlooked,” if you see him as a one-trick pony.
“I was born to be a middle linebacker,” Golden said. “Growing up, I wanted to be a nasty guy that controlled the field [like] Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher, my favorite players. I can get to the quarterback or stop the run. That’s always been part of my game — to do it all. I’ve been proving it. It’s been proven.”
The Giants are projected to have about $61 million in cap space available in 2020. They have holes to fill on the offensive line and at inside linebacker, and need more pass-rushers even if they keep a fully healthy Golden, who should become the first Giant with double digit sacks since Pierre-Paul in 2014.
“I’m blessed to be able to compete as Markus Golden, not somebody on one wheel,” Golden said. “At the end of the day, the money don’t matter. I’m blessed to be myself again. When it’s time for all that [negotiation], it’s time.”
For more on the Giants, listen to the latest episode of the “Blue Rush” podcast:
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