Darren Waller knows what this Giants trade comes down to: He has to stay healthy.
“Growth starts with being as available to the team as possible,” the Giants’ new tight end said Wednesday at the team facility.
Waller has had a whirlwind week.
He returned from a tropical honeymoon Monday, received a call from Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler informing him that he had been traded Tuesday, and arrived in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Wednesday.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he said.
He passed his physical, a source said, making the trade official from Las Vegas.
“Yeah, nobody came looking for me and kicked me out of the building yet, so I feel like I’m okay,” Waller said with a smile when asked if that was all clear.
I knew it was a valid question, though, because it’s the big question surrounding the Giants’ brightest new acquisition this week:
Can Waller, who missed 14 of the Raiders’ 34 games over the past two seasons, stay on the field long enough to help Daniel Jones take Brian Daboll’s offense to new heights?
( Giants add Colts LB Bobby Okereke, Bucs DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches on defense )
“I wholeheartedly believe in myself, and I believe that through consistent action and performance, Giants fans will believe too,” Waller said on Zoom. “You may have questions at this time about my health. Those are legitimate concerns. But… I am willing to be the best that I can be, to be a weapon for this team…. to get to the next level you want to go to.”
All of that sounds great. However, Waller’s plan to stay longer lasting was curious.
He seems to think that putting less stress on his body in the offseason now is the key, even though the way he became one of the best tight ends in the NFL was by working harder than ever.
“I feel really good right now,” he said. “The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make going into this offseason is making sure I’m peaking at the right time. I feel like something that helped me elevate my game to such a high level was working so hard in those offseasons of 2018, 2019, 2020 to where (it was) almost too hard, and that became my norm.
“So now it’s about how do I become more efficient with him,” he added, “and make sure that I’m peaking when the season starts, not showing up for training camp after working so hard that I’m almost exhausted and That won’t set me up for success or set the team up for success.”
If Waller is looking for reduced workload and maintenance days, you’ve come to the right place.
Daboll and the Giants’ coaching staff have mapped out players’ practice workloads since last spring, summer and fall. It didn’t exactly work to his advantage.
Soft tissue injuries roared through the team, including torn and strained ACLs and MCLs, and a rash of neck injuries also occurred. Ten of his 11 draft picks missed time due to injury.
The Giants finished as the sixth most injured team in the NFL in 2022, according to ManGamesLost.com.
They still made the playoffs with a 9-7-1 record, thanks to a 6-1 start punctuated by strong defense and competent or opportunistic offense.
But the point is that this trade for Waller, for a late third-round pick, only works if his body holds up like it hasn’t since the 2020 Covid season. players on the field lately.
A hamstring strained Waller last season and sent him to injured reserve. He only played in nine games. His 2023 contract includes an $11 million salary, a $200,000 training bonus and another $1.275 million in roster game bonuses.
So the hope is that Waller will turn back the clock on his availability. To help him do that, he’ll have a familiar face in his corner: tight ends coach Andy Bischoff.
Bischoff was the Ravens’ quality control coach, offensive assistant and assistant assigned to tight ends during Waller’s lowest time as a professional after being drafted by Baltimore in 2015.
Drug addiction got Waller suspended for the entire 2017 NFL season before the Ravens finally released him in November 2018.
But on Wednesday, he was able to have lunch with Bischoff and his father at the Giants facility in a refreshingly complete moment.
“He’s seen me through low points, through times where I was getting my foot in the door and trying to be consistent and reliable as a member of the practice squad and the organization,” Waller said. “Coming together now and continuing on this journey is a very good thing.”
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Waller said he’s looking forward to playing for Daboll, citing the “high-octane offense” he saw when Daboll “was in Buffalo.” He admitted that “there are times when I haven’t performed as well as I would have liked,” and he hopes to do his best this season.
It’s certainly encouraging that a guy who had 107 receptions for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020 is motivated to show his new team and fan base that he can do it again.
Waller noted that while “it’s a little tricky” for his new wife, Kelsey Plum, of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, to trade them across the country a day after their honeymoon, “she’s supportive of me and he wants to see me shine to my full potential.”
In response to a tweet that Raiders coach Josh McDaniels had traded Waller as a wedding gift, Plum tweeted: “Probably because he wasn’t invited to the wedding haha.”
“I’m grateful to have your support,” Waller said, “and we’ll do whatever it takes to stay strong together, whatever the distance, whatever the timing of it.”
As for timing, Waller said there have been no discussions yet about making this a longer-term relationship than just a trial season, with no guaranteed money on his contract beyond 2023. But he hopes his game will take care of that. .
“I’m focused on what I can do this offseason and this season,” he said. “Because without a hit this season, the future doesn’t really matter right now.”