New Giants outside linebacker Markus Golden could have gone to any one of a handful of teams that expressed interest in his services.
In the end, however, he chose to reunite with James Bettcher, now the Giants defensive coordinator, whom Golden said brought out the best in his during his first three seasons when both were with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I didn't get to talk to him until I was allowed to talk to him when free agency actually started. Since then, of course, he was reaching out to me, just letting me know that he wanted me here with him and that he would love for me to get back and get reunited with him,” Golden said during a conference call with the Giants beat writers.
“That's what we did, and that's what I'm looking forward to, just coming out here and doing whatever I can do to just help the team win, and I'm excited about that.”
In 2016, Golden enjoyed a breakout type of season in Bettcher’s system. That year, the 28-year-old tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 12.5 and seemed on his way to joining the elite pass rushers in the NFL.
But then tragedy struck as four games into the 2017 season, Golden suffered a torn ACL. That injury not only wiped out the rest of that season, but when he did return in 2018, he still wasn’t quite the same player he was in 2016.
"Yes, that was exactly what happened. A couple of years ago, I tore my ACL, but since then I've been working hard and grinding it out and feeling way better,” Golden said.
“Each week I'm feeling better and better. Staying on top of working out and just taking care of my knee. I've really been feeling 100 percent and feel like I'm ready to get back to where I was.”
In Bettcher’s multi-front system, Golden can expect to put his hand in the dirt on some plays and stand up on others, which is something that appeals to him.
"You're doing a lot of different stuff, from shifting different gaps and hitting gaps on the run. Just the simple things like standing up instead of having your hand in the dirt every down. It's a lot with that.
"I just love the way we play the 3-4 defense in James Bettcher's scheme. He calls a lot of blitzes, and guys just get after it, and I've just always loved playing in that defense,” he said.
For Golden, that defense that he knows Bettcher is capable of putting together is one he believes will surprise a lot of people once they complete the process of adding a few more pieces to the puzzle.
"I know the work JB (Bettcher) is going to put in. I met some of the coaches here, and I know the work that they're going to put in. So, I expect the defense to be really good,” he said.
“We're only in Week 1 of free agency, so of course we're going to grab some more guys to help out around here. I feel like no matter what group we got, the guys are going to work hard together, and I feel we can have some success.”
Golden, who signed a one-year, cap friendly deal worth up to $4.75 million with $2.225 million fully guaranteed, probably could have singed for more elsewhere with a team with more cap space, but instead understands that after going through what he did, it’s all about re-establishing his footing.
“It's a blessing just to play football. Coming from where I come from, it's a blessing to be able to play in the NFL,” he said.
“On top of that, with my knee injury and situation. So, I'm just excited to be able to be on a one-year deal. Whether it's one year, or no matter what, I'm just happy to be able to be in the NFL playing and being able to get out there Sunday and prove myself.”
And what he intends to prove is that he can be the disruptive force he was in 2016.
"I've been working hard this offseason and just grinding it out. Just been working hard. So, I believe that I'm going to be able to bounce back and be able to come out and help the team no matter what,” he said.
"That's my focus, to keep working hard, keep grinding this offseason and come back and be able to bounce back and the team big.
“I know the work that I put in and I know that I'm not going to stop working hard. That's all I'm going to do -- keep grinding, keep working hard, and I feel like God is going to bless me and good things are going to happen."