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Giants Darren Waller

Here’s What Darren Waller Trade To Giants Really Means

  • Jack McKessy
  • March 14, 2023
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On Tuesday afternoon, a football team from New York made a big trade that greatly improves their offense. That’s right, the New York Giants traded for Pro Bowl tight end tight end Darren Waller.

In exchange for Waller, New York sent a third-round pick—the 100th overall pick, which they acquired from the Chiefs when they traded for receiver Kadarius Toney, to be specific—to Las Vegas. Waller, who’s spent the last five seasons with the Raiders, had signed a three-year, $51 million contract extension before the 2022 season and is under team control for four more seasons. However, none of his salary is guaranteed after the 2023 season, so the Giants have a feasible out if Waller underperforms in his first year in the Big Apple.

This deal says a few things.

First, it proves just how big of a priority it was for Giants general manager Joe Schoen to acquire more pass-catching talent around recently extended quarterback Daniel Jones. The leading trio of receivers in 2022—soon-to-be free agents Darius Slayton and Richie James, and midseason pickup Isaiah Hodgins—were never going to be long-term solutions in the passing game and none of them surpassed 750 receiving yards on the season. And Kenny Golladay, the Giants’ free agency “splash” signing just a couple of offseasons ago, was such an underperformer that New York already announced they plan to release him on Wednesday to save cap space.

Of the other pass-catchers on the roster, two of them—Sterling Shepard and second-year Wan’Dale Robinson—are returning from ACL tears, one is running back Saquon Barkley playing on the franchise tag, and one is second-year tight end Daniel Bellinger, who showed some promise before suffering a gruesome eye injury in the middle of the season. The Giants didn’t seem to have any long-term pass-catching answers in the building, so bringing one in by any method was going to be a big priority. But the method they opted for—a trade for Waller—told me something else.

Schoen and the rest of the front office didn’t have a lot of faith in the wide receivers available in the current free-agent class and the draft. Of the wide receivers left on the free-agent market, the top guys are Odell Beckham Jr., who presents a risk coming off of an injury that kept him off of the field for a full season, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had a bit of a comeback year playing with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City but had seemed to be on the decline in the years prior. Outside of those two guys, the market gets a little shakier and there aren’t any clear options to fill in the WR1 role the Giants are looking for.

As far as the draft goes, New York isn’t in a good spot to draft their top one or two choices at wideout. Winning a playoff game was a big deal for a big market team that hadn’t done so since winning a Super Bowl after the 2011 season but also left them out of a premium draft position. Rather than try to trade up and sacrifice draft picks to make sure they get their guy or hope one of their top choices falls to the 25th overall pick, Schoen decided to use his later-round draft picks to get a proven commodity.

With Waller, the Giants are getting a tight end that has proven he has the ceiling of a top pass-catching target in an NFL offense. That’s what he was in 2019 and 2020 when he led the Raiders in targets, receptions, and receiving yards (by a lot) as he put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The former Raider is absolutely more of a receiving tight end than a blocking one, but the Giants already got themselves a talented blocker at the position in Bellinger, their fourth-round pick from last year.

That all being said, this is not a move without some risk. Waller has only played every game in a season twice in his career—those aforementioned 2019 and 2020 seasons—and missed a significant portion of the 2022 season thanks to a hamstring injury. On top of that, the veteran will be 31 years old at the beginning of the season. Being on the “wrong side” of 30 could mean more injury trouble or a decline in performance from earlier in his career.

Still, the Giants only gave up a single third-round pick to acquire Waller in this trade. It’s a relatively low-risk, high-reward move that gives Jones and the Giants a much better pass-catching weapon than they had all of last year. In addition, it takes pressure off of the front office to find a top offensive piece in free agency or the draft and allows them to pivot their attention to bolstering their defense—or perhaps their interior offensive line—with their first-round pick this April.

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Jack McKessy