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Free Agent Spotlight: OLB Markus Golden

Could he be a potential replacement for JPP or Shaq Barrett?

New York Giants v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Golden had a good season after reuniting with James Bettcher.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Familiarity. Typically, it carries a lot of weight in the NFL.

Players like it. Coaches like it. Owners like it. When co-workers know how each other tend to operate, the end result is usually success.

For Markus Golden and the Bucs, there is familiarity abound.

And that’s what makes him one of the more intriguing candidates for this project.

Let’s dive in.


When I say Golden and the Bucs know each other, that’s more directed toward Bruce Arians, but you get what I’m saying.

Arians drafted Golden with the Cardinals’ 58th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The former Missouri Tiger was selected in hopes of bolstering a pass rush that finished with the 28th-ranked sack rate in 2014.

It didn’t take him long to make a big splash in the NFL. After a four-sack rookie year, Golden hit the 12.5 mark in 2016. Everything was set up for him to do even better in 2017.

But, as we all know, life comes at you quick in the league. Golden tore his ACL just four games into the 2017 season. He made a full recovery, but was still getting his legs under him in 2018. New defensive coordinator Al Holcomb was also installing a 4-3 defense, which caused Golden to move to defensive end. He hadn’t played the position since high school.

The end result was 2.5 sacks through 11 games. Golden decided it was time to move on from the Cardinals at that point and he wanted to play in a 3-4 system.

Well, it just so happened that he played under James Bettcher from 2015-2017, who is the current defensive coordinator for the New York Giants. Bettcher was an assistant under Todd Bowles and took over for Bowles as defensive coordinator when he left to become head coach of the Jets. There’s a lot of familiarity between Todd Bowles’ and Bettcher’s systems, so you can see why Golden signed a one-year prove-it deal with New York in 2019.

Golden’s gamble paid off, just like Shaquil Barrett’s. Finally healthy and back in the right system, he racked up 10 sacks while playing a career-high 83% of defensive snaps.


If the Bucs can’t retain Barrett or Jason Pierre-Paul for whatever reason, Golden would be an intriguing candidate to fill the void.

It’s really all about how you scheme him up in your defense. Golden has a relentless motor and just enough athleticism to get the job done, but he needs a little bit of help from his coaches in order to reach his ceiling.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either. It’s the job of a coach to put these guys in a position to succeed. The good thing for Golden is that he is able to not only play the EDGE, but he can put his hand in the dirt and drop back into coverage (to an extent). He also has good hustle, instincts, and awareness. Those qualities almost always translate to some type of success on the field.

Golden has quick hands and knows how to use them at the point of attack. Just watch him work through O.J. Howard with ease on this play. Golden (#44) is lined up on the right of the screen:

Howard never stood a chance:

Those hands come into play here again, except this time they involve Demar Dotson. Golden is able to swat Dotson’s poorly-timed punch, which causes Dotson to expose his chest. At that point, Golden just shoves an off-balance Dotson aside and makes his move toward the quarterback. The pressure forces Jameis Winston to make a decision and the end result is an incompletion.

Golden is on the left side of the screen:

He’s at his best coming off stunts/twists. Golden uses balance, agility, and good footwork to make his way around blockers and through traffic. The timing of his stunts is usually on-point, as well. Golden is on the right side of the screen, lined up over Howard’s outside shoulder:

Even if he can’t get to the quarterback, he’s really good at creating pressure. Golden’s 13% pressure rate was higher than players such as Chandler Jones, Dante Fowler Jr., and Bud Dupree.*

There’s no doubt that Bowles could find plenty of creative ways to use this guy.


Golden’s ability to stay healthy is a question mark. That’s obviously a concern when you’re about to sign someone to a heavy contract. The Bucs can’t afford to pay him an eight-figure salary and have him miss almost 25% of games.

He’s also a bit limited when it comes to pass-rush moves. As I mentioned earlier, he has enough athleticism, but he’s not an elite athlete and it shows up at times.

Speed is more of Golden’s game. Don’t expect him to overpower his assignments or bull rush his way into a backfield. That’s just not what he does.

Tight end Jesse James completely takes Golden out of this play. There is a chance that Golden is there to set the edge, but even if that’s the case, it’s hard to envision Golden making a play, here.

He’s on the left side of the screen:

And this is just a simple case of him getting beat on this rep. If he can’t win on the first move, then odds are he won’t win the rep.

Golden is lined up on the right side of the screen:

I didn’t notice many countermoves when watching film. Granted, I only watched four games, but from what I saw, there is a limited arsenal.

But he is still pretty young at 28-years-old (turns 29 on 3/13), so there is probably a good chance that he can raise his ceiling a bit higher. You can always work on more moves and get stronger in the offseason. The question is simply how much better can you actually get?

WHAT’S THE COST? has Golden’s market value at $13.5 million/year. They are projecting a 4yr/$54,198,552 deal.

That would give Golden the 18th-highest cap hit for an EDGE in 2020. He would make more than Tampa Bay’s own Lavonte David and will likely be more expensive than Pierre-Paul, but the latter is just speculation on my end.


Can Golden stay healthy enough to justify his eventual contract? On top of the ACL, an ankle injury caused him to miss the final two games of the 2018 season.

The NFL is all about “what have you done for me lately”, though, right? If that mantra is true, then a completely healthy 2019 season should ease most worries. He looked fine for the duration of the season, so I wouldn’t expect teams to hold that against him too much.

Outside of the medicals, there’s not much unknown when it comes to Golden. You know what you’re getting with him. His 26 sacks in 60 games (he had 11 games with at least 0.5 sacks in 2019) will certainly pique interest around the league.


There’s a lot to like with Golden, but you would think he’s a more of a failsafe in case the Bucs can’t re-sign or franchise tag Barrett. At the end of the day, Golden would save the Bucs some money if that were to happen. Who knows, Tampa Bay may have enough room to sign him instead of JPP? Regardless, he will most definitely play a starting role with the Bucs.

What do you think?