Wake, 30, signed a four-year extension that could help define parameters for St. Louis' Chris Long, Seattle's Chris Clemons and Arizona's Calais Campbell. That extension was reportedly worth $49 million, with $20 million in guaranteed money.
2010-2011 NFL Sack Leaders
Long, Clemons and Campbell are entering the final year of their contracts, as was Wake.
Scheme differences affect how these players are defined. They are connected by contract status and their ability to rush the passer.
The Cardinals named Campbell their franchise player, setting his value at about $10.6 million for the 2012 season. Long will also earn more than $10 million this season. Clemons' deal pays him $4.6 million in salary for 2012.
Clemons and Wake are similar in that both were undrafted, both are 30 years old and both emerged as prominent players only in the last few seasons.
Seattle values Clemons as a pass-rusher, defensive leader and mentor for new first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin. For those reasons, signing Clemons to an extension could make sense even though Irvin projects as Clemons' eventual successor.
Campbell, 25, plays defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, diminishing his opportunities for sacks (he has 14 over the past two seasons). But as the Cardinals' franchise player, he's in position to command a lucrative extension.
Long, 27, has seen his sack totals grow every season since the Rams made him the second overall choice of the 2008 draft. He had 13 last season.
The chart shows Clemons and Long with about the same sack totals as Wake over the past two seasons. While teams value players for their all-around games, pass-rushing ability carries a premium and sacks are an important measure.
Clemons, Campbell and Long all possess strengths beyond rushing the passer.