Raiders

Why Darren Waller contract extension with Raiders is money well spent

Why Darren Waller contract extension with Raiders is money well spent

ALAMEDA -- Raiders tight end Darren Waller is just five games into a breakout season, but it’s already clear he’s in the NFL's top tier. He’s a dynamic playmaker with a prototypical body, a receiver’s speed, soft hands and the toughness required to block effectively.

Waller’s just entering his prime at 27 years old, with several years of excellence ahead. His three-year contract extension Wednesday was

 money easily and well spent on a player just scratching the surface of what he can do in this league.

The Raiders should shout this news from the mountaintops and put him on Las Vegas billboards posthaste. He’s a fantastic redemption story who inspires those around him and is incredibly easy to root for.

Waller was a player suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy while battling addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs and whatever else he could find.

He’s now more than two years clean, living his best life while realizing vast potential nearly wasted. Waller has no problem discussing his past and his path to sobriety, hoping to inspire others to overcome issues with substance abuse.

“It’s one of the great stories in football, one of the great things that I’ve seen in my career,” Gruden said last week. “I’m really proud of him, so thrilled for him getting it together and being an honest, upfront guy and talking about it and giving other young people the same enthusiasm to beat it, the same confidence that they can beat whatever addiction they might have.”

This is a guy you want around long-term. This is a steady locker room presence and a reliable target who will be just 31 years old when he plays out this contract extension. Waller can be one of the league’s best tight ends for years, making this deal seem like a bargain in the long run.

Gruden easily earmarked money for Waller, already considering him among the league’s best.

“He’s really a rookie playing tight end,” Gruden said. “He was a wide receiver in college. He sat out of football for a year. He leads the league in receiving right now at that position. If you watched him block, I don’t know if there’s a better tight end in football, really.”

Waller’s extension also suggests the Raiders are set up at tight end fro a long time. Rookie fourth-round draft pick Foster Moreau has surprised many in an excellent start to his professional career, showing toughness in the run game and an ability to make clutch catches.

They will play a huge role in a Raiders offense struggling to find receiver production with Tyrell Williams ailing, as well as three players who were in training camp now cut and two in-season trades to account for those losses.

[RELATED: Carr making most of Raiders' revolving cast of receivers]

Waller is the passing game’s best asset right now, with an ability to play in-line tight end and every receiver spot. Having him around long term adds vital stability to the offense, and the timing could’ve have been better.

The Raiders eliminated contract uncertainty down the line with a respectable sum Wednesday. Waller's extension thus avoids the drama associated with encroaching free agency and increased market value when his stats shoot skyward in 2019 and beyond as he further develops as a player.

Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Dion Jordan, D.J. Swearinger

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USATSI

Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Dion Jordan, D.J. Swearinger

ALAMEDA -- Dion Jordan hasn’t been a Raider long. He signed with the team on Friday and formally joined the team on Tuesday after his NFL-imposed suspension ended, leaving some question whether he’d be ready to play right away.

That answer’s already becoming clear. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said the defensive lineman should don silver and black soon.

“Absolutely,” Guenther said. “I think there’s a very good chance he makes his Raiders debut.”

Jordan isn’t the only new guy ready to make a contribution. Safety D.J. Swearinger should step right in, possibly playing a significant role in this Bengals game with Karl Joseph now on injured reserve.

“I do [expect Swearinger to play],” Guenther said. “It’s all hands on deck this week with the guys we got.”

Swearinger seemed to have better odds of making an instant impact. He came in on Friday and his transition has been smooth after playing in a similar defense while with Arizona earlier this year.

“You know, coming from Arizona, Vance Joseph is the defensive coordinator there,” Guenther said. “He was my secondary coach when I was in Cincinnati, so he’s used to kind of the same terminology. When we got him here I was like, ‘hey this is this coverage, this is that coverage,’ and he shook his head, ‘yeah I got it.’ So that was helpful. And he’s a smart guy to begin with so he’s picked it up really good.”

Jordan had to show well in Thursday’s practice, a higher-tempo workout with one-on-one pass-rush drills. Jordan is in fantastic shape but hasn’t played all season while serving a 10-game ban for using Adderall. The Raiders really need Jordon to fortify a thin defensive end group worked hard during the past few games. 

[RELATED: Jordan ready to work, realize full potential with Raiders]

Jordan will bring some fresh legs, even if he’s only available on obvious passing downs.

“He’s big and long. He’s getting into football shape, and has really helped us out,” Guenther said. “He’s picking up the playbook quick, so he was in working with the first team at some points today.”

Derek Carr comfortable spreading ball around in Raiders' passing game

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AP

Derek Carr comfortable spreading ball around in Raiders' passing game

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr beat the Detroit Lions with a tiebreaking, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. The Raiders quarterback completed two passes to Jalen Richard for chunk yards and another to Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown. Mix in some runs and that accounts for 75 yards with the game on the line.

Carr orchestrated another game-winner at the Coliseum the following Thursday night against the Chargers, connecting with Richard, then Renfrow, then Richard, the Renfrow, then Richard again. That set up Josh Jacobs’ 18-yard touchdown run to beat the Bolts.

Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller were in the pattern on both series. Carr enjoys going to the Raiders' top targets in big moments, but they’re typically blanketed with additional coverage.

Carr isn’t one to force the issue when a path of less resistance comes available, allowing the Raiders to steadily work down the field even in a time crunch.

He doesn’t have to worry about egos or demands for the darn ball when he gets back to the huddle. The Raiders share a singular focus, and that helps the quarterback operate under pressure and in times of less stress.

“It is so special and it’s very rare nowadays. We do not care about fantasy numbers, we do not care about stats, we don’t care about anything but winning,” Carr said. “And if they are going to take Waller away, the way we are going to have to win games is for someone else to step up and win their matchup. If they are going to take the pass game away, myself and our pass game, then Josh has to win it with our offensive line. If they want to take Josh away, then our guys have to win outside.”

Carr has worked with several top receivers and tight ends, with egos of varying sizes. His past experiences have been, at times, worse than this one.

“We as a team, we have such a good group of skill position guys that do not care about that stuff and, as you know, that’s rare especially nowadays when everything is on social media,” Carr said. “If you don’t get enough fantasy points, people are tweeting you and all this kind of stuff. I promise you no one on our team cares about that stuff even a little bit.”

Waller has been the best Raiders receiver in fantasy and the real world. His 51 catches for 588 yards rank first by a large margin, yet Carr has seven receivers with at least 12 catches.

Waller’s seeing the ball go in different directions by garnering extra attention, but he’s happy others are stepping up.

“It’s really cool, but I’m not really surprised,” Waller said. “They’ve been doing it. They’ve been showing themselves in practice from spring until now. It’s just a chance for everyone else to see it now. We’ve seen it for a while so, but it’s awesome to see.”

[RELATED: Jordan ready to work, realize full potential with Raiders]

That attitude comes from a team-first dynamic built by weathering so much adversity through the season. This group has bonded over all that and is playing better than the sum of its parts because of it.

“We care about each other; we care about seeing each other succeed,” Carr said. “That’s why if you ever watch our team, whenever someone scores a touchdown you don’t see anyone on the field like, ‘Man, that should have been my ball or man, that should have been me.’ Nobody cares about that stuff. We just cared that our buddy scored and we are going to win the football game.”