Before his nap, Markus Golden was in a bad mood.
But when he woke up, and there were missed calls from his agent and the New York Giants, he knew he was being traded. When he was told to whom, he jumped out of bed and starting packing immediately.
The one-time Cardinal was headed back to Arizona, and all that could do was put the linebacker in a good mood.
"(I'm) not just with a winning team but back with my team," Golden said. "I'm an Arizona Cardinal at heart.
"It's one of the best feelings of my life. I feel like I got drafted again."
Golden, the Cardinals' second-round pick in 2015, returns after two years in New York as a needed pass rush piece following the season-ending injury to Chandler Jones. Golden's role just gets more important in his first game Sunday against the Dolphins, because the Cardinals' other starting outside linebacker, Devon Kennard, will be out because of a positive COVID test.
Finding a player who welcomed a return – as well as a guy who was so well known throughout the building – couldn't have worked out any better for the Cardinals.
"I think that was huge, knowing he's a high-motor, high-energy, great locker-room guy based on his previous stint here," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "(GM) Steve (Keim) did a great job predicting we would need another outside guy to help us out and bring in a guy like that. We're excited to get him out there and add him to the mix."
Yet there is no way the Cardinals can be more excited than Golden himself.
Golden was able to go back to his own house, to his own bed, to see his kids, who live in the Valley, and "really get back to my normal life."
He had hoped for more going into free agency in his last year with the Cardinals, in 2018. But the market never truly developed, and he ended up settling for a one-year, $4 million deal with the Giants. He had 10 sacks in 2019, but again, a market never developed, and the Giants went with a seldom-used tender offer mechanism for another one-year, $3.75M contract – far from big money.
"I'm used to something I think is going to go a certain way and it's going to be perfect for me then it goes the wrong way," Golden said. "I'm used to stuff happening like that. I'm always ready for the next thing in my way, the next obstacle."
But he said he harbors no ill will with the Cardinals and his initial departure, emphasizing the Cardinals wanted to keep him after 2018. That didn't work out, and besides, Golden said, it was important to keep business and other relationships separate.
One of those relationships was with Jones, who called Golden hyped up that his former wingman was returning to desert. Jones, Golden said, is irreplaceable, but he doesn't feel pressure to do his job – which is to sack quarterbacks.
"To be honest I wanted to be on the opposite side with Chandler and hunt like we used to," Golden said. "But I'm going to hold it down for him."
There are nine games for Golden to make a second mark as a Cardinal. He will again be a free agent after the season, and the future – especially in a time where COVID restrictions will likely impact the salary cap – is cloudy.
But after the last two years of trying to figure out a new contract, Golden knows what it's about, and it certainly hasn't removed the wide smile he's worn since the trade.
"I'd be lying if I said (free agency) wasn't frustrating," Golden said. "But I kept my head up. I always look at stuff positive ... Look how it worked out. No money in the world that I would've made could've been even better than me coming back and being an Arizona Cardinal."
Images from the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.