Raiders

Raiders' Darren Waller able to reflect on past with contract extension

Raiders' Darren Waller able to reflect on past with contract extension

ALAMEDA -- Darren Waller had one great Wednesday. The breakout tight end practiced with an Oakland team reliant on him to consistently produce in the run and pass game, and then signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Raiders through the 2023 season.

He got a fat raise and financial stability for life, a surefire sign the Raiders believe he can be a top-tier tight end for years to come.

His celebration, however, was subdued.

“I’m not really into spending money on a lot of things,” Waller said Thursday. "I did go to Walgreen’s and buy some Perrier. That’s what I like. That’s my go-to beverage right now.”

Don’t take it to mean the moment wasn’t meaningful. It was a powerful one for someone who nearly threw his career away over substances of abuse, which got him suspended by the NFL twice while in Baltimore. The second ban without pay lasted a full year and forced him to work at a grocery store to make ends meet.

Now he’s recognized as one of the NFL’s best tight ends, in the midst of a breakout season. He was set for restricted free agency next year, where the Raiders essentially controlled his rights. The Silver and Black chose to pay him anyway and commit to him long-term.

That, considering all Waller has been through, meant more than money.

“I feel like it shows I can contribute to a team and be reliable, someone who can be counted on,” Waller said. “That wasn’t the case before. I just try to be a good teammate and be part of this family. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

The Raiders have helped him integrate into the recovery community after signing him off Baltimore’s practice squad later last season. He signed his first Raiders contract in 2018, in the exact same room he signed a major extension less than a year later. It was a powerful moment that made him reflect on just how far he has come, now more than two years clean and sober.

“There was a big wave of that yesterday,” Waller said. “ I usually reflect a ton in my life because I’m so grateful for where I am. I was talking to my family and friends and my trainer, who helped me get back into shape, and it was pretty overwhelming for sure. But it’s in the best possible way.”

Waller’s all about stacking good days, an effort he’s getting better at. It’s paying real dividends in Oakland, where he has a powerful support system. It’s hard for him to think so far into the future, where his contract lasts four full years into the team’s Las Vegas relocation.

“It’s incredible for me,” Waller said. “It’s hard for me to think about what I’ll be like in 2024. I just try to let the days stack up, but it means a lot to me that they would do that. This whole thing is still surreal to me, because last year I was sitting in that same room coming over from Baltimore, and I just didn’t want to mess this up. Now to have something in place for a longer-term is incredible. I’m really looking forward to what’s next.”

[RELATED: Why Waller's extension is money well spent for Raiders]

Waller looks forward to being recognized among the tight ends he watches every week. He goes over every game Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz play. He likes watching Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen and Cameron Brate. He wants to be recognized in that class of tight ends and known as someone who performed at an elite level for a long time.

“I spend time on the off-day watching other guys in the league just looking at their game and what from that I can apply to mine,” Waller said. “I can compare myself to guys who have been doing it a long time. I’m kind of new to this, but I want to be in the conversation, and I think it’s realistic for me. I know there are a lot of people here who will help me accomplish that.”

Raiders know changes are 'necessary evil' as awful stretch continues

Raiders know changes are 'necessary evil' as awful stretch continues

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have been blown out in three straight games. The latest rout came Sunday in a 42-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The first two happened away from the friendly confines of the Coliseum. This one happened here in the East Bay, the second-to-last time the Raiders will play in Oakland.

That means something to head coach Jon Gruden, who doesn’t want the fire to go out in Oakland without the Raiders making a final stand. The Raiders have one more chance to impress here next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Gruden vowed to turn over every rock he can to produce a better effort than what the home fans saw this past Sunday.

That’s especially true of a defense that allowed 35 points -- the other seven came on a fumble returned for a touchdown -- and an incredible 552 yards to the Ryan Tannehill-led Titans.

The coverage was poor. The pass rush was bad. Tackling was subpar. Those facts have flown below the radar, with all the ire aimed at quarterback Derek Carr and his decision to throw it away on 4th-and-goal from the 1.

Poor defense is a major problem, though yards allowed have been an issue most of the season. Opportunistic and clutch play got the defense by in victories but has been absent in defeat. Against the Titans, that unit may have reached a new low.

“It’s like getting punched in the stomach. It knocks some wind out of you,” Gruden said. “Anytime a team takes the ball the length of the field that many times, it’s hard to do in this league. We’ve done a pretty good this year offensively of sustaining some long 80-yard drives, but sometimes you got to win the game of field position, you’ve got to force a three-and-out. We weren’t able to do that yesterday from the jump and very, very concerned about it and we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to get it right.”

One problem: there aren’t many changes left to make. It’s hard to imagine any promoted practice-squad players making a quantifiable difference. There’s enough depth to make some changes at linebacker. We’ve seen snaps dwindle from certain defensive linemen. The secondary could get shaken up a little bit. All that, however, might be shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship.

[RELATED: Gruden says Jacobs, Brown could possibly return to Raiders]

That won’t stop Gruden from trying. He refuses to wave a white flag on the season, even if better options aren’t crystal clear.

“[Recent play] is sickening. [Changes are] tough, but it’s a necessary evil,” Gruden said. “Right now, we’ve got to play better, and we’re going to play better, and there will be changes. There will be changes. What happened yesterday will not happen again. I can’t allow it to happen.”

Josh Jacobs, Trent Brown could possibly return to Raiders this season

Josh Jacobs, Trent Brown could possibly return to Raiders this season

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders aren’t playing for the playoffs anymore. Postseason dreams were essentially dashed by Sunday’s 42-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The Raiders have a snowball’s chance in a well-stoked campfire of making the postseason, but that doesn’t mean coach Jon Gruden’s going to shut everything down and go into evaluation mode. That won’t be the case after three blowout loss, especially with the last game in Oakland coming up Sunday against Jacksonville.

That’s why he won’t rule out a possible return for injured stars Josh Jacobs (fractured shoulder) and Trent Brown (pectoral strain). Shutting them down would eliminate the prospect of injury aggravation, but Gruden kept the possibility of a return starting against the Jaguars.

“We’re going to try to win this game. Absolutely,” Gruden said. “We’re never going to put a guy out there that can’t play, but we’re going into the last game in the history of the Oakland Raiders and it’s an emotional time. We’re going to try to win the game. We’re not eliminated from the playoffs and we’re going to try to win every single time we strap it on.”

Jacobs and Brown are the team’s best offensive players regardless of position -- Rodney Hudson might be in that group as well -- and certainly increase the odds of winning an emotional game that will close out the Raiders’ playing days at Oakland Coliseum. They relocate to Las Vegas before the 2020 season.

Jacobs made an impassioned plea to play the Titans. He even took a painkilling injection to prepare for play, but the Raiders ruled him out nonetheless.

“He sat in my coach’s office. He wanted to play, and he got really emotional about not playing,” Gruden said. “He doesn’t want to let his teammates down. I don’t know where he’s going to be this week, but if he’s ready to go and he’s cleared to play, he’ll play. He’s a great back and a great centerpiece for our team moving forward.”

Brown has been playing through one injury or another most of the year, but this latest ailment prevented him from going against the Titans. Repairing a torn pectoral muscle can involve extensive rehab he and the Raiders would certainly like to avoid.

[RELATED: Carr, Raiders know 'nobody cares' about cause of fatal skid]

Brandon Parker, one of last year’s third-round draft picks, stepped in for Brown and was okay save an ill-timed holding call. He wasn’t a dead weight up front, which might help the team continue if Brown remains unavailable.

“He did good,” Gruden said. “I was really pleased with the line. I mean our offensive line played a good game yesterday. Parker had a holding call, a costly one, on third down that nullified a potential first down, but other than that he played good football.”