How TE Darren Waller's Retirement Impacts Giants Now and in Future

With Darren Waller having decided to retire, here are some answers to common questions about what this means and what's next for the Giants
Dec 25, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants tight end Darren Waller (12) during warm-ups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Dec 25, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants tight end Darren Waller (12) during warm-ups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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With New York Giants tight end Darren Waller having informed the team of his intention to retire, here are a few answers to questions swirling about this news.

Why did it take Waller so long to make a decision?

That’s hard to answer without knowing what was happening inside Waller’s head. Still, we can probably start with whether he wanted to go through the rigors of getting ready for another NFL season after three prior injury-filled campaigns, the last of which seemed to get him down. 

Another factor in the equation was, no doubt, the finances. By retiring, Waller is leaving a $10.525 million base salary on the table, no small amount of money. He likely had to weigh that option against what he might stand to make in his post-career endeavors.

Lastly, there was the question of whether his heart was in it. When things aren’t going your way, it’s not uncommon for people to want to make it a career, especially after several seasons. 

These are just a few reasons that likely went into Waller’s decision, all questions that can’t be answered overnight. 

Why didn’t the Giants put a deadline on a decision?

There were likely two reasons. First, there was the human element. The Giants were no doubt aware of Waller's personal issues amid his divorce from WNBA star Kelsey Plum, and they wanted to give him space rather than add to his stress by slapping a hard deadline on his decision.

The other reason is that the Giants didn’t need the $11.6 million salary cap space Waller’s retirement yields, at least not until the summer. 

So there was no advantage from any angle to push for a decision, which the team and the player likely knew would be made before the mandatory minicamp since no-shows to that camp are subject to fines unless they’re excused by the head coach and/or general manager.

Why are the Giants getting hit with dead money on this transaction?

When the Giants acquired Waller in a trade with the LAs Vegas Raiders for a third-round draft pick, they restructured his contract by converting $9.835 million of his 2023 base salary into a signing bonus. 

In doing so, that money is prorated over the contract's life, hence the dead money charge that will hit the Giants cap this year ($2.458 million) and next year ($4.9 million). There are two dead money hits because Waller’s retirement is a post-June 1 transaction, a designation allowing a team to get more savings on a larger contract but at the price of having the dead money split over two seasons.

In a video explaining his retirement decision, Waller said he owes the Giants about $1 million in bonus money, so it sounds like the cap savings will be even greater.

What happens now?

Waller will be placed on the reserve/retired list. If he changes his mind, the rights to his service revert to the Giants, as he’s under contract through 2026. 

At some point, if it becomes clear that Waller has no intentions of changing his mind, the Giants can waive him off that list and close the book on that transaction.

New York Giants tight end Darren Waller
Oct 22, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants tight end Darren Waller (12) catches the ball during the first half Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Do the Giants regret trading for Waller?

General manager Joe Schoen was asked about this at the end of last year, and he said he’d make the trade again if given the chance. He made the trade in the first place because when healthy, Waller is a dangerous threat who must be accounted for by opposing defenses. 

In building their roster during the 2023 off-season, the Giants sought to surround quarterback Daniel Jones with more weapons. The Giants hoped Waller and running back Saquon Barkley would give opposing defenses something extra to consider. 

In other words, Schoen’s intentions were solid and well-meaning. It’s just that it didn’t work out as hoped.

How does this affect the personnel?

It probably doesn't affect it as much from a tight-end perspective, considering the team prepared for the possibility of Waller retiring by drafting Penn State tight end Theo Johnson in the fourth round. The thought is that Johnson will be TE2 on the roster, with Daniel Bellinger taking on the TE1 role, which he had before Waller’s arrival.

The real question is what the Giants do at TE3. Waller was considered a flex tight end in the offense versus more of an in-line prospect, so of the Giants’ flex options, they have Tyree Jackson (who is currently nursing an undisclosed injury), Johnson, and Lawrence Cager.  

Cager figures to be the third tight end if the team wants a flex candidate. The Giants could also look to add a veteran at the position if guys like Mo Allie Cox (Colts) and CJ Uzomah (Jets) are summer cuts or if guys like Brycen Hopkins, who is currently a free agent who was last with the Rams, are of interest. Either way, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants look to add another tight end to the mix this summer.

Now that the Giants have all this salary cap space, how will they plan to use it?

The Giants are pretty much in a decent place at the moment regarding their roster, but the extra $11 million can now be used if they need to add another tight end or if they feel they need help at cornerback or another position. 

Don’t expect general manager Joe Schoen to rush out to spend it. The $11+ million gives him some much-needed breathing room. If he wants to tweak the bottom of the roster–those guys usually don’t count toward the top 51–he can.

He could also look to extend players as the season goes on. 

For instance, if things don't work out with quarterback Daniel Jones and Drew Lock plays well, it makes too much sense not to extend Lock for at least another year if they plan to move on from Jones.

Depending on how things go this year, punter Jamie Gillan, linebacker Isaiah Simmon, edge Azeez Ojualri, and edge Boogie Basham could be candidates for contract extensions. The good news is that none of those guys would break the bank to extend if the Giants felt they wanted them beyond this season.

The most likely scenario is that Schoen will hold his water and not rush to spend what he has. Remember, cap space can be carried over from year to year, and if they can carry over half of the space they currently have, that would, in essence, cancel out the dead money Waller’s deal currently projects for next year. 


 

 


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Patricia Traina

PATRICIA TRAINA

Patricia Traina has covered the New York Giants for over three decades for various media outlets. She is the host of the Locked On Giants podcast and the author of "The Big 50: New York Giants: The Men and Moments that Made the New York Giants" (Triumph Books, September 2020). View Patricia's full bio.