EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On Monday, nine days after he married WNBA star Kelsey Plum, Darren Waller returned to his Las Vegas home after the couple's honeymoon in Amanyara in Turks & Caicos.
By Tuesday night, Waller was unexpectedly in New Jersey after the Giants obtained him in a trade with the Raiders.
"It's been high octane the last 24 hours," Waller said on a virtual news conference shortly after the deal became official today at 4 p.m. "I did not see this coming. I was getting ready to just do everything I could to make myself available for the Raiders and get ready for everything that was going to start in mid-April. So, it caught me off guard. But it's the nature of the business."
View photos of the newest members of the Giants touring the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
For the Giants, it's a smart transaction. One week after signing Daniel Jones to a four-year contract, general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll gifted him with a new offensive weapon. The price was a third-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, No. 100 overall, which the Giants acquired in the trade with Kansas City that sent Kadarius Toney to the Chiefs.
Waller, 30, is one of the NFL's best receiving tight ends. A 6-6, 255-pounder, he has played in 74 regular-season games with 52 starts and totaled 298 receptions for 3,572 yards and 19 touchdowns. The other tight ends currently on the roster - Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Dre Miller, plus fullback Chris Myarick – have 55 career receptions.
Waller has been productive in the red zone and is expected to be a frequent recipient of passes from Jones, who is coming off his finest season and is entering his fifth year as the team's quarterback.
"With Dabs, just seeing him from when he was in Buffalo, you just see a high-octane offense," Waller said. "A lot of playmakers, ball just flying around the yard no matter the weather conditions. It's just an exciting brand of football, and you can tell by the way he's come here, I feel like he's really empowering players. And you can tell by just me looking at the tight end group that they had (in 2022), from the outside looking in, receivers that the casual fan may not know a lot about, but they're making clutch plays in clutch moments. So, to see him and how he gets everybody involved and the creativity in which he does that, I'm excited to just be in the mix and be a part of what this offense is going to try to do."
This has been a lifechanging month for Waller. On March 4, he married Plum, an all-star guard with the WNBA's Las Vegas Aces. Yesterday, his professional life sent him back to the east coast.
"I was wrapping up with my physical therapist in Las Vegas," he said. "Probably around 11 a.m., I got a call from the general manager of the Raiders (Dave Ziegler), and he was just letting me know that I was going to be traded. And we just kind of reflected on the last season with the Raiders and just expressing respect for one another and what we did to try to make it work. But from there, I got a facetime call from Dabs and Joe shortly after that. And was finding my way on a flight to Newark by 4 p.m. So, it's been pretty crazy. Phone's been going nuts. And trying to just say goodbyes to Las Vegas people and get introduced to people with the Giants."
When healthy, Waller is one of the league's most productive tight ends. In 2020, he set a Raiders franchise record with 107 receptions. (The Giants tight ends record is 74, set by Jeremy Shockey in his 2002 rookie season.) Waller produced consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 1,145 in 2019 and 1,196 the following year, when he scored a career-high nine touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
He played in just nine games because of hamstring and knee injuries last season, when he had 28 receptions for 388 yards and three touchdowns. In 2021, back and knee problems limited him to 11 games and he caught 55 passes for 665 yards and two scores.
"I'm feeling great right now," he said. "The biggest adjustment I've had to make going into this offseason is making sure that I'm peaking at the right time. Something that helped me to elevate my game at such a high level was working myself hard in those 2018, 2019, 2020 offseason to where it was almost too hard, and that became my norm. So, now it's about how I become more efficient with it and making sure I'm peaking when the season starts, not showing up to training camp having worked so hard that I'm almost exhausted."
View photos of new Giants tight end Darren Waller.
Waller was a 2015 sixth-round draft choice, No. 204 overall, by the Baltimore Ravens, from Georgia Tech. He was drafted as a wide receiver, the position he played in college, before moving to tight end in his second season. Waller played two years for the Ravens before missing the 2017 season while serving an NFL suspension. The following year, he was released and joined the Ravens' practice squad before the Raiders signed him on Nov. 27.
Waller has been open about his past addiction issues.
"I feel like the greatest lessons I've taken from my recovery journey to the field is just to be centered in the present moment, to take things one day at a time," Waller said. "When I got reinstated and got an opportunity to start for the Raiders, I wasn't envisioning these huge, statistical seasons or my name in headlines and lights. I was just trying to be as consistent a player as I possibly could from period to period, from practice to practice, from week to week. And for me, I have 'Just for today' tatted on my wrist. And messages like that just keep me centered in knowing that if I'm handling each and every moment like that moment in the future that I want to happen, that success that the team wants to go for, I want to go, it's going to be a present moment when it comes. But if I handle every moment that way, with a sense of urgency and with gratitude, then I'm going to make the most of it. I'm going to like the results whether I was perfect or imperfect.
"I'm not going to be perfect. I just say lessons like those keep my mind in the right place where if it's during the course of a season, things can go great. Things can go not what you expected them to be. So, it's a matter of just staying even, staying in that place of equanimity and riding it out."
After catching six passes in four games in his debut season in Oakland, Waller's career took off in 2019, when he started all 16 games and caught 90 passes for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns. The next year he again played a full schedule and posted career-best numbers in all major statistical categories.
With the Giants, he will be reunited with tight ends coach Andy Bischoff, who was on the Ravens' staff when Waller was in Baltimore. Waller and his father, Dorian, a Queens native and lifelong Giants fan, ate lunch today with Bischoff in the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
"Reuniting with Andy is pretty cool," Waller said. "It's like one of those full circle moments. He was in Baltimore before I got suspended and after I got reinstated and got to be on the practice squad there. So, he's seen my low moments. He's seen me in moments where I was getting my foot back in the door and just trying to be consistent and be reliable as a member of the practice squad and the organization. And now from afar, he's been able to see me and taken some of the lessons I've taken from being around him and that culture to help elevate my career. So, to meet now and to continue on this journey together, it's a pretty cool thing. I don't think a lot of things happen like that for people. But I'm excited to have him be in my corner, have him help me elevate my game and all the games of tight ends in the room. So, I think it's going to be a really cool journey."
So will his new marriage with Plum. When they planned to start a new life together, the two professional athletes did not think one of them would be working in New Jersey.
"It was a bit of a curveball, coming back from the honeymoon," he said. "But she supports me and wants to see me shine to my ultimate potential as a player while I still have opportunity. So, I'm grateful to have her support, and we're going to do whatever it takes to remain strong together whatever the distance looks like, the timing of it. So, I'm grateful to have somebody that understands how things work in an industry like this, and we just go forward and make the best of it what we can."