What Darren Waller's retirement means for the New York Giants

ByJordan Raanan ESPN logo
Sunday, June 9, 2024

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The trade for Darren Wallerlast offseason looked like a steal. The New York Giants were getting a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end to complement quarterback Daniel Jones for nothing more than a third-round pick.

It seemed like the perfect solution for a team that was coming off a playoff appearance (and wild-card win), but still needed more weapons alongside running back Saquon Barkley, even if it came with some risk. Waller came with injury and reliability issues, but general manager Joe Schoen figured it was worth a shot.

Just over one year later, the trade looks like a steal for the Las Vegas Raiders. The Giants wasted that third-round pick that came from the trade of Kadarius Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Waller provided the Giants just over 500 yards and one touchdown before the team was informed of his retirement, a source told ESPN on Sunday.

The Giants traded for Wallerto be the Giants' No. 1 receiver. It was the best solution at the time to a difficult situation after the organization had just signedJones to a four-year, $160 million extension. They needed something in the short term to support their newly paid quarterback, and the high-end wide receiver market wasn't strong.

"You do a deal with Daniel and you see how it was structured, so you try to expedite the process and give him a chance to succeed," Schoen said earlier this year of adding veteran receivers like Waller and Parris Campbell last offseason.

In theory, it made sense. Jones was on another two-year trial period off the best season of his career, and a healthy, revived Waller could help. The Pro Bowl tight end was twice a 1,000-yard receiver, and the Giants needed that to help Barkley.

But Waller also came with tremendous risk.

He has played more than 12 games just twice in nine professional seasons with the Giants, Raiders and Baltimore Ravens for a variety of reasons, including injury and suspension. More recently, it has been injuries. He retires now after one pedestrian, injury-filled year in New York in which he took the entire spring away from the team to make this decision.

The Giants knew at the end of last season that Waller was contemplating retirement and have been operating as if he isn't going to return. They drafted a tight end,Theo Johnson,in the fourth round and signed two others, Chris Manhertz and Jack Stoll, in free agency.

Daniel Bellinger will slide back into his pre-Waller role, and it appears more will be expected from Johnson and former wide receiver Lawrence Cager in the pass-catching tight end role. Johnson and Cager are among the players who have received first-team offense opportunities this spring.

But the biggest onus might land on Malik Nabers, the Giants' No. 6 pick in the draft.

For the Giants to have any chance of evolving into an average offense (they finished 29th overall last season), they will need him to be a No. 1 receiver immediately. There isn't the supporting cast for another veteran to take the pressure off the dynamic rookie out of LSU.

Wide receiver Darius Slayton and running back Devin Singletary have already proved to be quality NFL players. Wide receivers Jalin Hyatt and Wan'Dale Robinson have potential to get there as well. But none are take-over-the-game players.

Waller once was. The Giants were expecting that, even if it was only in spurts. He was 30 years old at the time of the trade and under contract for three more seasons.

Schoen & Co. were clearly hoping for at least two because they moved money back in his contract expecting him to be a part of their future. The Giants gain $11.9 million in cap space this season, but have dead money hits totaling $6.6 million this year and next.

Instead of a multiyear contribution, all the Giants received was 52 catches for 552 yards and one touchdown in 12 games. He struggled last season with a hamstring injury, which ultimately led to his departure from the Raiders.

"Things didn't work out last year, just based on health," Las Vegas owner Mark Davis said after the trade. "You know, we didn't quite get the Darren Waller that could have really helped us even more."

Perhaps the Giants should have been paying closer attention. Waller admittedly was frustrated by the hamstring problems last year. He spent this spring concentrating on his music and questioning his desire to play.

It leaves the Giants without last year's top weapons -- Barkley and Waller -- and puts even more pressure on Schoen and coach Brian Daboll.

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