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Giants need pass-rush help, but Markus Golden unlikely to return

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Will reduced contract demands increase market for Clowney? (1:12)

Dianna Russini identifies the teams that could potentially sign Jadeveon Clowney now that he isn't seeking $20 million a year. (1:12)

It has been two-plus weeks since the floodgates to NFL free agency opened, and only one player who had double-digit sacks last season remains unsigned. That somebody is linebacker Markus Golden.

Golden went into his "prove-it" year with the New York Giants and appeared to eliminate the doubts. He was fully back to the player he was before seriously injuring a knee in 2017. The former Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher had the second double-digit-sack season of his career, recording 10 sacks in 16 games for the Giants in 2019. He was sixth in the NFL with 27 quarterback hits and tied for 14th with 13 tackles for loss.

Somehow, that production still hasn't benefited Golden in free agency, and the $10 million-per-year ship has sailed. That is believed to have been Golden's asking price, a source told ESPN. Golden has attracted interest from other NFL teams, but that price was more than any of the pass-rush-needy teams were willing to pay.

"[Asking] too much money," sources have said of why Golden remains unsigned.

It certainly doesn't appear the Giants were an option at anywhere near that asking price. And New York signed outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell for one year and $4.6 million. The Giants' plan from there was to add another pass-rusher at a lower price point than Golden desired. It seems unlikely Golden and the Giants will be a financial fit this offseason.

So Golden is expected to be patient in his second crack at free agency.

"The $10 million is gone. Don't think he's getting [$8 million]. But it won't be too far off," said another source with knowledge of the NFL's market for edge rushers.

Golden is No. 4 on ESPN's list of top remaining free agents, and No. 1 on that list is another edge rusher, Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney also overshot his market with an asking price in the neighborhood of $20 million, and he has had a limited market with those demands.

Clowney is not believed to be on the Giants' radar. And even if the price lowered to a point where they deemed Clowney's value met the risk, the Giants would need to make room against the salary cap. That would be tough considering they don't have any intention of rescinding the franchise tag on defensive lineman Leonard Williams.

The other top pass-rushing option is Yannick Ngakoue, who desperately wants out of Jacksonville. The Jaguars are beginning discussions for Ngakoue at a first-round pick and more, according to sources.

The Giants are more likely to add a lower-priced veteran later on. Some of the more reasonable options still available include Cameron Wake, Jabaal Sheard and Vinny Curry. Golden outproduced all of those players last season, but he falls into the category of good enough to start but not good enough to pay. Golden played on a one-year, $3.75 million deal last season. He earned a $1 million incentive for reaching 10 sacks.

Several factors appear to be prohibitive to Golden landing on a team for a high price. At 29, he isn't considered a young, ascending player. Golden isn't an ideal fit for a 4-3 defense (which removes some teams from the equation) and has potential long-term questions about the health of his knee. In a time that teams -- and the world -- are limited by the coronavirus pandemic, going through a physical to alleviate concerns is an issue.

Golden also is a blue-collar player; his size, speed and height don't get scouts and coaches excited. He's an effort player more than anything.

"If you're looking for flashy, that's not him in terms of finesse. But he's so tough and resilient," one of Golden's former coaches said. "He's just a bloody rusher. This is my experience -- people just struggle in looking at guys that rush bloody."