Monday, January 19, 2009

Dolphins Snag Two-Time CFL Defensive MVP Cameron Wake

Free agency doesn't begin until Feb. 27, but that didn't stop the Miami Dolphins from already adding a potential defensive starter for 2009. Highly sought after by more than half the NFL, the Dolphins agreed to a four-year deal with the Canadian Football League's best defender, BC Lions defensive end Cameron Wake, on Jan. 19.

Background

Wake (then going by his given first name, Derek) played college football at Penn State where he recorded 191 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 24 tackles for a loss as a linebacker and defensive end. Following his collegiate career, he ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at Penn State's Pro Day in 2005.

After going undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft, Wake signed with the New York Giants in April. This is where his past gets a little fuzzy.

Wake's BC Lions bio says he was signed by the Giants in April 2005 and released in December 2006. However, according to my research, he was released by the Giants in June 2005 just two months after being signed and was never re-signed.

The only other NFL connection I could find was a 2007 Baltimore Ravens head shot on the photo website JAMD.com by searching 'Derek Wake.' However, I cannot find any record of him being a member of the Ravens so it's possible he just participated in one of the team's minicamps on a tryout basis.

Regardless, we do know Wake's NFL career didn't materialize in those first years. He signed with the Canadian Football League's BC (British Columbia) Lions in May 2007 and began going by his middle name, Cameron. That's when the fun began.

Wake burst onto the CFL scene with 16 sacks as a rookie in 2007, earning the CFL's Most Outsanding Rookie Award, Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award and Western Division All-Star honors. He also recorded 72 tackles and blocked a field goal during his first season.

Wake was once again the CFL's most dominant pass rusher in 2008 with a whopping 23 sacks. He also recorded 65 tackles and three fumble recoveries (including one returned for a score) on his way to his second straight Most Oustanding Defensive Player Award and Western Division All-Star selection.

According to Adam Schefter of NFL.com, Wake drew interest from 17 NFL teams this offseason. He worked out for eight, including the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, Jan. 15. He agreed to a four-year contract with a $1 million signing bonus on Jan. 18. Per Schefter, the deal could be worth up to $4.9 million.

Analysis

As I'm not a follower of the CFL, I learned about Wake earlier this season from some fans of the league on my Dolphins' facebook group. It was pretty clear the guy was a beast and had the potential to be a damn very pass-rusher as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I'm ecstatic the Dolphins signed him and I think the presence of the Parcells, as well as Miami's 2008 turnaround, probably aided Wake in his decision to pick the Dolphins over the other interested teams.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 241 pounds, Wake told reporters after his signing that he weighs between 250 and 260 now, which is closer to ideal for the position he'll play in Miami. He already has a great blend of strength, speed and athleticism to go along with a nonstop motor. Physically, he looks a lot like Vernon Gholston, but hopefully he has a better NFL career than Gholston's had thus far.

Of course, one has to be somewhat wary of Wake since he didn't have an impressive college career and couldn't make it in the NFL the first time around. He certainly seems to have turned the corner though, and even though the talent level of the CFL drops off quite a bit from the NFL, one guy racking up nearly as many sacks as some whole teams in a single season is an impressive feat.

I expect Wake to compete immediately for a starting job upon his return to the NFL. Outside of Joey Porter (and even including Porter in the second half of the season) the Dolphins' pass rush was pretty poor for a lot of 2008. The guy who needs to be concerned most about the signing is Matt Roth.

Roth was strong against the run during his first season as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but his pass-rushing skills leave plenty to be desired. I am of the opinion that Roth does not have a long-term future as a starter in Miami's current scheme and won't return when his contract expires following the 2009 season.

While it seems unlikely Wake is as strong against the run as Roth, he certainly seems to have more upside as a pass rusher and his superior speed and athleticism should give him the edge in over Roth the coverage department as well.

At the very least, Wake should factor into the pass-rushing rotation (a la Charlie Anderson in 2008) immediately. He should have no problem jumping Erik Walden, Tearrius George and Quentin Moses for playing time and will likely push at least one off the roster entirely. Wake should also benefit from the presence of Joey Porter, from whom he can learn the finer points of pass-rushing in the NFL out of the 3-4 outside linebacker spot.

Quite simply, this is a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Dolphins. The contract will not be an issue in the event Wake doesn't pan out, and having him locked up for four years if he does thrive will be a big plus. While still a huge question mark, Wake will potentially one of the biggest sleeper signings off the offseason.