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Even at 38, the 49ers should be interested in Cameron Wake

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Wake was one of the most productive pass rushers in limited action last year

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

In 2019, the San Francisco 49ers shuffled through more defensive lineman than I can remember in recent memory. Fourteen defensive linemen appeared in at least three games. That’s unheard of. Heading into the season, it looked as if the team would be set. When you have Dee Ford coming off the bench, you’re stacked. Injuries forced the 49ers’ hand and required them not only to play guys that weren’t ready, but the team needed their starters to play heavy snaps. You could tell the snap counts were making a difference as we got late into the season.

The legal tampering period kicks off next week, and the only depth at edge rusher the 49ers have is Kenatvius Street and Solomon Thomas. However, Thomas is more of an interior pass rusher. If the 49ers franchise tag Arik Armstead, that means Dee Ford will become a sub-package player once again. Ronald Blair tore his ACL and is an unrestricted free agent. Damontre Moore suffered a season-ending injury as well. He’s an unrestricted free agent, too. Last season, we saw what happens if you have to rely on Thomas and Street as your backups. Can they improve? Sure. That’s a leap of faith to assume so.

Wake up, John

You can never have too many pass rushers. You won’t find too many better than Cameron Wake. Even at 38-years-old, Wake is a legitimate threat to get after the quarterback. Wake appeared in nine games last season. On 181 pass-rushing snaps, Wake had 31 total pressures, eight quarterback hits, and 2.5 sacks. Talk about production. Using Pro Football Reference’s stats, only one player in the NFL pressured the quarterback at a higher rate than Wake did in 2019: Dee Ford. Wake’s non-sack pressure percentage was 81%, compared to Ford’s 59%. No matter how you spin it, Wake was great in 2019.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Wake was placed on the injured reserve in November after suffering a hamstring. That came after playing a season-high 37 snaps. I’d say that won’t happen in San Francisco, but if you told me Anthony Zettel would be playing quality snaps before the season starter for the Niners defense, I don’t know what my reaction would have been, besides googling Zettel. If the 49ers do decide to pursue Wake, they’d have to ensure he stays in that 15-25 range of snaps. That way, you keep Wake healthy and productive for the entire year.

Perfect scheme fit

Wake was at his best when he was in the Wide-9. His 2.5 sacks all came from that alignment, but so did his best plays. Here is the third play of the game against the Falcons in Week 4:

It’s a quarterback hit, and it may not seem like much, but Wake turned the corner in three steps. The quarterback released the ball in under two seconds, and Wake still got to the quarterback.

While 15-25 plays don’t seem like much, that’s the difference between the Chiefs driving in the second quarter of the Super Bowl when the starters are tired, or for a drive in the fourth quarter. Having a capable edge rusher like Wake won’t allow opposing offenses to double team whichever starter is still on the field. Wake would see all kinds of 1-on-1 opportunities with the Niners. Here is Wake rushing from our left in the clip below. If this is any indication of how good he was in 2019, sign me up:

The right tackle didn’t stand a chance. Most tackles didn’t last year.

Robert Saleh can toy with his personnel and get great matchups. That’s the case without Wake, but with Wake, it’s even more dangerous. On the play below, Wake is lined up in a Wiiiide-9 on our right and still ends up hitting the quarterback.

Why the 49ers

The Titans released Wake on Thursday, who can immediately sign a deal. Wake is a five-time Pro Bowler- and is one of 34 players in the history of the NFL with over 100 sacks. We are talking about a top-tier player. Wake will likely want to go to a contender. In 2019, Wake made just north of $7 million. Coming off an injury at his age, that’s not going to happen in 2020, especially as a part-time player. The fit is there, the 49ers are a contender, and the way the young defensive lineman talked about Dee Ford’s leadership last season, you have to imagine Wake would have a seamless transition. If Wake wants to suit up another season, John Lynch should pick up the phone.