If Cameron Wake proved anything this year, it’s that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
At age 34 and coming off a torn Achilles tendon, most thought Wake’s career arc would steeply decline.
Instead, he was as good as ever.
His 11.5 sacks were the third-most he’s ever had in a season. And he did that as a part-time player. Wake was on the field for just 51 percent of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps in 2016.
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Wake wasn’t just good this year. He was excellent. He was a Pro Bowler for the fifth time. He went to the playoffs for the first time. And he’s a leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
With 81.5 career sacks, Wake will go down as no worse than the second-best pass rusher in team history. But he go down as the best -- period?
Probably not. Wake needs 50 more sacks to break Jason Taylor’s franchise record, which is daunting, but not impossible. He simply needs his next five years to be like his first eight. If he averages 10 sacks a season through the rest of his 30s, Wake will overtake Taylor and enter the conversation for all-time great.
Now, we don’t know if the Dolphins will even want Wake on their roster for five more years. He’s under contract for just one more season. But Wake is set to earn $6.9 million in base salary in 2017, which seems like a steal considering his production.
Granted, no player is the same at 38 as he was at 28, but there is precedent for pass rushers to continues to play well after grey hairs start to sprout.
Take Taylor, for example. He played until he was 37, and had 19 sacks in his last three seasons.
No doubt, it would take a herculean effort. But if anyone can do it, it’s Wake, who might actually work his body harder in the offseason than the football season.
“I wasn’t the sought after guy, I wasn’t the front page story,” Wake said recently. “I wasn’t drafted. I was kind of in the back door – kick the door down – way to get in to where I am. There was no silver spoon. There was nothing handed to me. Even to this day, I had to fight and work for everything that I have. I take that motivation with me every time I step on the field.
“Where I got to is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, as the saying goes,” Wake continued. “But it continues to fuel me. There’s no end. There’s no complacency. There’s no satisfaction. Everything that I’ve gotten, I want more and more and more. I’d like to think that this helped me be successful.”