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Tight End Darren Waller
Q: Can you take us through the process of when you found out and what your reaction was and how much of a whirlwind it’s been the last 24 or so hours?
A: I was wrapping up with my physical therapist in Las Vegas yesterday. 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 I was going to be traded. 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 (head coach Brian Daboll) and (general manager) Joe (Schoen) shortly after that. I was finding my way on a flight to Newark by 4 p.m. So, it’s been pretty crazy. Phone’s been going nuts. Trying to just say goodbye to Las Vegas people and get introduced to people with the Giants. It’s been high octane the last 24 hours, I’d say that.
Q: Did you see this coming?
A: 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. It caught me off guard, but it’s the nature of the business.
Q: I’m curious what your emotions are. Obviously, the Raiders were the organization where it kind of saved your career. Obviously, you had some great success there. You come to a new organization. What are your feelings now?
A: It’s a lot of positive emotions – a lot of gratitude. Like you said, getting a clean start, a clean slate with the Raiders was amazing for me. Moving to Vegas and setting up roots there and just getting involved with the community, making friends outside of football and just great people inside the game of football, it’s been a great place to continue to be home for me and my wife. Grateful for my time spent there. Grateful for everything that they’ve ever done for me, supporting me in my causes, my foundation, my interests. Just grateful. I focus on that as I move forward, and now I’m grateful to be here.
Q: A couple years ago, you were right there with (Kansas City tight end) Travis Kelce probably as one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL. Then injuries, the last two years. How are you feeling at this point? How sure are you that you can be that guy again here, three years older?
A: I’m feeling great right now. I know for me, 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 so hard in those 2018, 2019, 2020 offseasons, to where it was almost too hard, and that became my norm. Now it’s about how do 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. That doesn’t set me up for success or the team up for success. For me, it’s about making sure I’m peaking at the right time and having those conversations with the organization. So far, just being here today, I really feel like it’s going to set me up to get back on the trajectory that I was on.
Q: I know it’s been a whirlwind, but even from afar, or if you’d had a chance — it looks like you’ve met (quarterback) Daniel (Jones) – what are your thoughts on joining this offense, on playing with your new $40 million a year QB, (running back) Saquon (Barkley), and what’s here in the potential for this offense?
A: Meeting some guys today in the cafeteria and the locker room, they just radiate with humility. I really respect that. Guys that are so talented and that have a lot of upside and are just really stepping into their prime as players, I’m excited to be with them, to be friends of theirs, to just grow and to do whatever it takes to go where everybody knows this team can go. It’s just really cool to meet them and get a feel for their personalities and know that these are guys that I’m going to enjoy showing up to work with every day.
Q: From a personal perspective, how hard is it for you knowing – we all saw you just got married – your wife is there, and then you get traded right after you just got married?
A: It was a bit of a curveball, coming back one day from the honeymoon. She supports me and wants to see me shine to my ultimate potential as a player while I still have the 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. 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.
Q: From a football perspective, how much do you know? What do you know about Daboll and (offensive coordinator Mike) Kafka’s offense or this offense in general and how you envision yourself fitting in there in that regard?
A: With Dabs, just seeing him from when he was in Buffalo, you just see a high-octane offense. A lot of playmakers, the 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 empowered players. 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 them, but they’re making clutch plays in clutch moments. 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.
Q: I think we can all agree that no matter how many years you’ve been in the league, there’s always room for growth. Where do you see for yourself where you’d like to grow, not only in this offense, but as a player?
A: For me, number one, the growth starts with being available as much as possible for the team. Then for me, from there, just route-running technique is something that I always feel like I could grow in. I feel like I’ve grown tremendously from coming into the league and moving to tight end. For me, being such a big guy, I feel like just keeping my pads low, being crisp in and out of breaks, not taking so many steps to get out of routes is always a work in progress and a craft for me. And then for me, it’s just not limiting myself to lining up at certain positions and certain routes. Looking at everything that this offense is trying to do and be like, ‘I can do that for this team. I can do whatever they’re going to ask of me.’ Then just being reliable in the run game. I feel like I’ve had moments where I’ve been there, and there are moments where I haven’t performed as well as I would’ve liked to. So, it’s just finding consistency in that aspect of my game as well and trying to be as well rounded as possible.
Q: Over the last couple of years with injuries and also with some personal things that I think so many of us and our families can relate to, how have you learned to now be a better player because of all those other experiences?
A: Wow, that’s a great question. 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. 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 of 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. Messages like that just keep me centered and know, 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 or I want to go, it’s going to be a present moment when it comes. 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. It’s a matter of just staying even, staying in that place of equanimity, and riding it out.
Q: I actually covered that game at MetLife Stadium – it was against the Jets, though – where you just dominated that day. You caught everything that was in the sky. And you had a great game that day. How sure are you, and how much should Giants fans believe, that those performances from you are still in you and still possible on game days?
A: I believe wholeheartedly in myself, and I believe that through action and through consistent performance, Giants fans will believe as well. They can have questions at this moment about my health. Those are legitimate concerns, but I’m somebody that I believe I’ve addressed those issues. I’m willing to come out here and to be the best I can be to be a weapon for this team, a tool that this team can use to get to that next level that they want to go to. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Q: Just to clarify – if I heard it correctly – you got back from a honeymoon on Monday? And you found out about the trade yesterday?
A: That is correct.
Q: I wanted to ask about reuniting with (tight ends coach) Andy Bischoff, how well you knew him in Baltimore and the prospect of doing that?
A: Reuniting with Andy is pretty cool. 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 me 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. Now from afar, he’s been able to see me and take 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. I think it’s going to be a really cool journey.
Q: Have you been able to see him yet in New Jersey? Did he send you a message today at all?
A: Yeah, I had lunch today with him and with my dad. We were just talking over lunch, sat in his office a little bit just talking about how we do things, how he envisions the offseason going and just learning the system. I can just tell he’s with me every step of the way, just by how he’s shown up for me before. And just feeling his energy now, I’m excited about it.
Q: How do you compare coming back from something like the last two years of injuries to maybe what you conquered what you conquered before that? Does this seem like a much easier comeback to you than having to deal with what you did before? And does that make you feel like you can do anything because you overcame the addictions?
A: Yeah, I believe that. I believe that there is resiliency forming from that day, and I feel like resiliency has been formed in private matters in my life and then from smaller adversities that happened over the course of seasons, whether I’m successful or not as successful as I want to be. I feel like those continue to prepare me for moments where adversity comes again because I feel like it’s always going to show up in different forms. I feel like that’s what brings the best out of me. It’s what brought the best out of me before, and I feel like it’s going to bring the best out of me this time again. So, I’m excited to just be the best teammate, the best player I can be for the Giants to just help them be as successful as possible. And I feel like, yes, the moments of my past have prepared me to rise above what may have been my current circumstances these past couple of seasons.
Q: How was dealing with a hamstring injury maybe different than anything else? Was it one of the tougher injuries you’ve had to deal with?
A: Yeah, no doubt. It’s definitely different. There are a lot of injuries that you can kind of tough your way through and play with injury. But the hamstring is literally you cannot run with a hamstring injury. When you continue to reaggravate it at practice trying to come back and trying to be out there for your team as quick as possible, it really limits you because you literally cannot run no matter what you try to do. It was frustrating for sure. But I feel like in those moments, I learned a lot about myself, learned to be patient with myself in times where I wasn’t producing or performing the way I wanted to. You don’t know the confidence you have in yourself until the people around you may doubt you. But you’ve got to look in the mirror and know that you believe in yourself. So, I feel like that’s what I learned from those moments.
Q: (Former Raiders head coach) Jon Gruden liked to call you a ‘joker’ and not a ‘tight end.’ That’s what he used for all the great tight ends, I guess. How do you look at yourself? Do you think of yourself beyond a tight end? And do you like the moniker of ‘joker’?
A: I love Jon Gruden to death, and I feel like I’ll take that title. I feel like I’m just a football player. I’ll line up out wide. I’ll line up in the slot. I’ll line up in line. I’ll block. I’ll crack the end if you want me to. Whatever you ask me to do, I feel like I can do it at a high level. That’s what I plan on doing here.
Q: Just something about your contract here. Because there’s no guaranteed money in it after this season, there’s talk about, ‘Oh, the Giants can view this as a ‘wait and see’ situation – see how 2023 goes.’ I was just wondering if you’ve had conversations with the Giants already about if they want to make a longer-term commitment to you? Will they possibly rework your contract to indicate that? And is that something you want as well?
A: That’s not something that’s been discussed. I try to leave that to (my agent) Drew (Rosenhaus) and Joe (Schoen). I’m focused on just what I can do in this offseason and coming up this season because without success this season, the future doesn’t necessarily matter right now. I’m focused on what I can do this year and putting my best game on display. I’ll let everything else happen the way it happens.
Q: I’m assuming since we’re talking to you that you passed your physical. I just wanted to ask you since we’re talking to you.
A: Yeah, nobody’s came and got me and kicked me out of the building yet (laughs). So, I feel like I’m good.
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