Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden proved to be a force in 2021 as he's coming off a team-leading 11-sack season. So much of a force that he's now the Cardinals' leading pass rusher with Chandler Jones leaving as a free agent.
Even when Jones was on the team, Golden saw himself as the top dog.
"Even when Chandler was here, I'm the No. 1 guy to me," Golden told team website after the last day of mandatory minicamp. "That's why I'm able to perform at a high level no matter who I am playing with."
Golden is in his second stint with the Cardinals after the team selected him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He signed with the New York Giants prior to the 2019 season before getting traded to Arizona in 2020.
Golden posted three sacks in nine games for the Cardinals and then signed a team-friendly two-year deal worth $5 million with $2.5 million guaranteed in 2021. The guarantees were a $1.5 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary last year.
Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger rated Golden’s deal as the 15th-best contract ahead of the upcoming season. Golden was the only Cardinals player ranked out of the 32 players selected by Spielberger.
Golden's contract also included a possible $2 million in incentives each year for numerous levels of sacks: $250,000 for 6.0, another $250,000 for 8.0, another $500,000 for 10.0 and an additional $1 million for 13.0. Golden racked up 11 sacks and earned himself $1 million.
Golden has three seasons of double-digit sacks. The 31-year-old pass rusher will be receiving more attention without Jones on the other side.
But he is now up for the challenge and "hunt" is his favorite word when describing not only his focus but the team's focus as well.
"I felt weird coming in the first day because Chandler wasn't out there," Golden said. "It felt crazy. But at the same time I'm glad we've got the guys we've got. Like everyone has been saying, you can't replace Chandler. But you can get out there and hunt. I'm going to do my part and hunt and know the guys we've got are going to be ready to hunt too."
Golden didn't participate in voluntary OTAs. He did attend mandatory minicamp and will put his faith in himself and the Cardinals as he's heading towards another contract year.
"I'm working hard for you, and I hope you do the right thing for me," Golden said. "That's just how I am. I'm not worried about to the point, 'Man, I'm not going to play, I'm not going to do this or that.'
"But the fact is, you go out, you work hard, and if you go out and compete and do your job at a high level, and you've got the organization's back, you just expect them to have your back too."
Other than Golden, the Cardinals are counting on pass rushers such as Dennis Gardeck, Devon Kennard, Victor Dimukeje and rookies Cameron Thomas, Myjai Sanders and Jesse Luketa.