No sooner had one honeymoon ended than another began for Darren Waller.
Two days after returning from a post-wedding getaway with his wife Kelsey Plum, a WNBA star, and one day after he was traded from the Raiders to the Giants, Waller met new teammates and coaches and welcomed big expectations.
Call it the honeymoon period for the formerly unstoppable tight end who is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons.
“I believe wholeheartedly in myself, and I believe that through action and consistent performance Giants fans will believe, as well,” Waller said Wednesday at the team facility. “They can have questions at this moment about my health — those are legitimate concerns — but I believe I’ve addressed those issues. I’m willing to be the best I can be to be a weapon for this team — a tool that this team can use to get to the next level they want to go to.”
Waller, 30, totaled 197 catches for 2,341 yards and 12 touchdowns in all 32 games during the 2019-20 seasons before back and hamstring injuries and a concussion caused him to miss 17 games over the past two seasons.
He notched 83 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns in the other 17.
“I’m feeling great right now,” Waller said after passing his physical. “The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make this offseason is making sure I’m peaking at the right time. Something that helped me elevate my game to such a high level was working myself so hard in those 2018, 2019, 2020 offseasons to where it was almost too hard. That became my norm. Now it’s about, how do I become more efficient? Not showing up to training camp having worked so hard that I’m almost exhausted.”
Waller had just finished a physical therapy session Tuesday in Las Vegas when he learned of the trade.
“It caught me off guard,” Waller said, “but that’s the nature of the business.”
The Giants traded a third-round pick (No. 100 overall) for Waller rather than signing a top free-agent tight end like Dalton Schultz or Mike Gesicki.
He will count $11.875 million against the salary cap this season but his contract includes no guaranteed money over its final three seasons — allowing for the possibility of a low-risk one-year rental — unless it is restructured.
“That’s not something that’s been discussed,” Waller said, deferring to agent Drew Rosenhaus and general manager Joe Schoen. “Without a successful this season, the future doesn’t necessarily matter. I’m focused on what I can do this year and putting my best game on display.”
The Giants set out to add field-stretchers so the offense isn’t as reliant on the legs of quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.
Only five teams had fewer than the Giants’ 17 touchdown passes last season. But that didn’t mean overpaying atop a thin receiver market, like the mistake that led to signing Kenny Golladay in 2021.
“Meeting some guys in the cafeteria and locker room, they just radiate humility, and I really respect that,” Waller said. “Guys that are so talented and have a lot of upside and are really stepping into their primes as players, I’m excited to be with them … and do whatever it takes to go where everybody knows this team can go.”
Waller referenced head coach Brian Daboll’s “high-octane” offense with the “ball just flying around the yard no matter the weather conditions” as coordinator of the Bills.
“I feel like he’s really empowered players,” Waller said. “You can tell by the tight end group [the Giants] had from the outside looking in, receivers the casual fan may not know but they are making plays in clutch moments. To see how he gets everybody involved and the creativity with which he does that, I’m excited to be a part of what this offense is going to try to do.”
Waller is reunited with coach Andy Bischoff, his former tight ends coach with the Ravens both before and after Waller’s one-year suspension in 2017 under the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“I’m just a football player,” Waller said. “I’ll line up out wide, I’ll line up in the slot, I’ll line up in-line. I’ll block and crack the [defensive] end if you want. Whatever you ask me to do, I feel like I can do it at a high level. That’s what I plan on doing here.”
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