DAVIE — The target on the No. 12 jersey of the New England Patriots is tiny. The Dolphins’ Cameron Wake knows this going in. He knows what can happen if he hits Tom Brady too low. Hitting Brady too high or too late can be just as bad, maybe worse.
But Wake also knows this is a one-way street. If any of the Patriots’ offensive linemen nail Wake with a hit that crosses the line Monday night, chances are a 15-yard penalty is the worst that can happen.
“My knees aren’t valuable to the NFL,” Wake said Saturday. “They can cut me. They can do everything, but if I brush a quarterback, I get fined.”
Wake, 35, wasn’t arguing against player safety. He was arguing for a uniform standard of safety rules, a world in which the health of a defensive end is equal to that of a star quarterback.
The topic was raised in the wake of a turbulent few weeks in the NFL, which has seen Oakland’s Michael Crabtree and Denver’s Aqib Talib suspended for fighting, the Dolphins’ Bobby McCain ejected for going after the Patriots’ Danny Amendola, New England’s Rob Gronkowski suspended for Monday night’s game against the Dolphins for a blatant cheap shot, and Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier suffer a serious spinal injury after lowering his head while trying to make a tackle.
Given this brutal spell, it’s unclear if player safety will be a point of emphasis for officials this weekend, although the NFL does plan to revisit the subject in the offseason.
Regardless, there’s no question what would happen if Wake were to plow into Brady with a helmet-to-helmet shot.
“The world ends,” Wake said. “I get cracked. I get cut. I get everything. I don’t think I’ve ever — in my whole career — had anybody else get fined for anything they’ve done to me. Ever.”
Wake being Wake, he knows only one speed. So he’s not going to approach these final four games any differently. Playing it safe, he said, can get you both hurt and beaten.
“I wouldn’t be able to do that unless the offensive players are doing the same thing,” Wake said. “ … If it’s not mutual, if I’m going 20 miles an hour and you’re going 15, I’m going to win. Now you’re like, ‘Well, now, you’ve got to go 30.’ Well then I’ve got to go 45. And we’re going to go until we’re I’m maxed out and you’re going to max out and we’re going to have a tremendous collision. Where’s the line? Are you going to tell all the running backs, ‘Listen, you’ve all got to slow down a little bit?’ Receivers?”
Wake has 89.5 sacks over his nine-year NFL career by not slowing down at all.
“Every time I’m going in there, I’m trying to literally destroy this person,” he said. “ … You don’t see running backs going in (softly). They’re down and getting into the most powerful and compact (position) and literally in terms of physics, the most kinetic energy they could possibly produce; and I have to do the same to meet that force. It’s force. It’s two forces, mass, velocity — it’s physics. How am I going to stop you from advancing beyond this line?”
Wake knows how. Football is a game of intimidation.
“This is my thing: I want to hurt everybody I play,” Wake said. “I don’t want injure anybody. I want you to be able to get up and go to the next play or feed your family and play next week but I want you to say, ‘Man, Cameron Wake.’ I don’t want you to be off the team or like not playing. I want you to obviously be physically defeated. I want to intimidate. I don’t want you to be harmed beyond tomorrow at all.”
But the fact is players do get harmed beyond tomorrow, next month and sometimes next year. It’s uncertain if Shazier can resume his career. Closer to home, the Dolphins have 11 players on injured reserve, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who blew out a knee in training camp.
“I’m sure every team has about that with 50 players on a team and then when you think about a 90-man roster … that’s a 20 percent chance every time you’re on the field, a 20 percent chance that whatever happens to you, you’re not going to play football this year,” Wake said.
Coincidentally, two years ago, the unfortunate player hurt in a Patriots-Dolphins game was Wake, who tore his Achilles trying to sack Brady. Although some players require a year to recover from such an injury, Wake came back as strong as ever in 2016, recording 11.5 sacks and receiving as comeback player of the year.
“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “I mean I’ve dodged a bullet.”