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.
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.