Armando Salguero

End of an era: Cameron Wake seems headed to another team in free agency

Dolphins premier defensive end Cameron Wake, a member of the Miami Dolphins’ 50th Season All-Time Team and second in sacks in team history, has likely played his last game for the franchise.

Wake, 37, will be an unrestricted free agent starting Wednesday and multiple teams have signaled interest in signing him. The Dolphins have signaled no such interest.

The team has not said publicly it won’t bring back Wake. General manager Chris Grier said at the NFL Combine he would talk to Wake’s agent while not committing to those talks leading anywhere.

But the club has been non-committal at best in discussing Wake internally. Some in the organization have recommended moving on.

There has been very limited conversations between the team and Wake or his camp since the organization fired coach Adam Gase, a club source confirmed. And none of that limited contact has suggested the team would definitely like Wake to return for an 11th season.

This is a shame because Wake is chasing his 100th career sack; he’s only two shy at 98.

Leaving the Dolphins marks the end of an era for him. And, as importantly, it marks the end of an era for the team.

Just as Dolphins history can be measured by the eras of their quarterbacks — with Bob Griese and Dan Marino the two most significant markers — the same can be done with Dolphins pass rushers.

Bill Stanfill.

Vern Den Herder.

Doug Betters.

Jason Taylor.

Cameron Wake.

And, yes, this is happening because the Dolphins are in transition. They have a new coach, a newly empowered general manager, a new “multiple” defense, and a new philosophical approach on how to build a team.

The team on Thursday cut reserve defensive end Andre Branch and reserve guard Ted Larsen. Cutting Branch saves the team $7 million of salary-cap space. Cutting Larsen will save the team $2.125 million.

The Dolphins are also trying to trade defensive end Robert Quinn after one disappointing season with the team. If they cannot trade him, he will likely be cut and save the team $12.9 million in cap space.

These moves are understandable. These players disappointed.

But it seems odd the new approach doesn’t make room for a highly productive player. For a team leader. And an edge rusher, no less, which is more important than just about any position on the field save quarterback.

Wake is coming off a season in which he delivered six sacks in 14 games. Don’t let the raw numbers fool you.

Wake’s workload was reduced to under 517 snaps while other pass rushers around the league got 800-900. But his productivity was still among the top edge defenders in football, ranking second in the NFL in pass-rush productivity, and second in QB-pressure rate, according to metrics compiled by Pro Fooballl Focus.

Wake also delivered his best season against the run since 2012, according to PFF.

Wake’s overall PFF grade was higher in 2018 than the season before. It was also higher than it was in 2013 — when he was 31 years old and prior to an Achilles’ tendon injury in 2015.

So, yes, the Dolphins are about to lose a fine player. But the curious thing is the question of how they can replace Wake?

Because while Wake made $9.1 million last season and isn’t going to sell his services cheaply in free agency, it’s going to be hard finding someone who will be pressure the quarterback like Wake did. Because NFL teams simply do not allow such players to hit the market.

Wake was graded the No. 12 edge rusher in the league by PFF. Only he and New England’s Trey Flowers are about to become unrestricted. Kansas City’s Dee Ford will also be available, but the Chiefs placed a franchise tag on him with the idea of trading him — so he’s not really unrestricted.

Flowers, meanwhile, is likely going to command a huge contract that might double what Wake gets on an annual basis.

And that’s something of the point: Wake has been a relative bargain for the Dolphins in his 10 seasons. He came into the league after washing out with the New York Giants and having to sit out a year “on the couch,” he has often said, waiting for another opportunity to play.

He played two years in the CFL before the Dolphins signed him in 2009. By his second season, Wake delivered 14 sacks and hasn’t looked back.

And, speaking with him about it multiple times, he has always felt a sense of loyalty to the Dolphins for giving him that opportunity.

Starting next week, it seems, Cameron Wake will be looking for a new opportunity.

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Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.