By now you’ve heard the incredible story of Darren Waller: a young man who battled drug addiction, but overcame it, and was open about his past during HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this summer.
With so much emphasis on the past, the Raiders wanted to make sure Waller knew they were focused on his future, as the team signed the breakout tight end to a multi-year extension Wednesday evening.
Waller currently leads the Raiders with 359 receiving yards and 37 receptions, and has become Derek Carr’s go-to target, which is crazy considering he’s only been with the team for roughly a year. Not only has Waller progressed quickly, but his contract negotiation happened in the blink of an eye as well.
After returning from England, Waller told reporters that the Raiders reached out to his agent, and from there it only took about a week to get pen to paper. The work that he’s put in is a testament to his character, and just how determined he was to not mess up this second chance in the NFL.
“It’s incredible to me, it’s hard for me in my mind to think what I’ll be like in 2024, but I just try to let the days stack and it’ll handle itself,” Waller told reporters Thursday. “It means a lot to me to do that, still – don’t want to say disbelief – but it’s just still surreal to me. I was, last year, sitting in that same room signing my contract coming from Baltimore. I just didn’t want to mess this up, so now to have something in place is incredible.”
During his dark days, Waller dealt with self-sabotage and doubt lingering in the corners of his mind, but to receive this contract extension gave him a feeling of reassurance and symbolizes how far he’s come.
“I feel like it just shows that I can contribute to a team and just be someone that’s reliable, can be counted on,” he shared. “That wasn’t the case before, so I just take pride in doing that, and everything else happened. Let the results take care of itself, but I just try to be a good teammate first and foremost and be a part of the family. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
The Raiders and Raider Nation have embraced Waller from the start, making sure that he was healthy off the field before he could even start to think about his role on the field. When he signed with the team in 2018, Waller was introduced to the player engagement staff and offensive line coach Tom Cable, which showed him that the team was serious about helping him.
“We didn’t even install any plays, they were just introducing me to player engagement, and introducing me to Coach Cable,” Waller said. “Coach Cable’s family is pretty good in the recovery community, so that was a connection there with his son. They did all that first before a play was even put in.”
When he finally got to work though, Waller didn’t hesitate to demonstrate his play-making ability. After nearly a year in Jon Gruden’s system, the dynamic tight end is one of the best players at the position this season, and his offensive coordinator, Greg Olson, couldn’t be more thrilled for him.
“Can’t be more excited for a guy,” Olson said during his media availability. “He’s really the reason why you coach. I think every coach on our staff would say the same. It’s just been a pleasure in the meetings, his work ethic, his preparation, certainly his athletic ability and how he’s grown as a tight end coming out of college as a wide receiver, that’s not an easy transition. Every facet and every aspect of his game is a great example of what a pro is what a pro should be.”
Suited up in Silver and Black for the foreseeable future, this is just the beginning for Waller, and he’s on the right path.