The Las Vegas Raiders have an elite tight end in Darren Waller, but they may be best served to wait until the end of his current deal to extend him.
Ever since the Raiders signed Darren Waller off of the Ravens practice squad, he has been the Raiders’ best player. He became Derek Carr’s No. 1 target when Antonio Brown imploded and continued to be the guy despite the rise of receivers such as Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs.
When Waller went down in 2021, his absence was evident. He was the go-to guy and the one player who can physically impose his will on a defender. However, after the previous three seasons, the Raiders have a decision to make on Waller.
As Waller enters his age-30 season, he is entering a phase where many players begin to physically decline. Waller missed much of his twenties due to addiction and his remarkable story is as inspiring as it gets, however it may be unwise to continue to heavily invest in him.
What should the Raiders do with Darren Waller?
Waller is criminally underpaid, that is a fact. However, his current deal brings him to the start of his age-32 season and despite still being young in the league, investing heavily in a player on the wrong side of 30 typically isn’t smart.
Age always catches up and for a player that truly relies on his athleticism like he does, even the smallest decline could turn Waller’s contract into an albatross.
Now to be clear, the Raiders should give Waller a raise, perhaps even doubling his current salary, and guarantee these next two seasons. Waller should still have some prime seasons left and giving Waller his raise and guaranteeing these years will keep the Raiders’ window open.
The problem is, Waller will likely want additional seasons of guaranteed money, something that has to worry the Raiders.
Paying a 32 or 33-year-old Waller $14 million annually is a negative asset. The Raiders simply cannot pay playmakers over the age of 30 at such high figures. Waller will still be a productive player, but likely not a top-level player, plus the Raiders will need to extend Renfrow.
Waller also continues to be slowed by injuries. Waller missed nearly a third of the 2021 season and has once again been injured in camp. That is a clear sign that Waller’s body is slowly showing cracks of the superhuman athleticism he has. While Waller could very well be very productive into his mid-30s, he will not be worth top-3 tight end money.
The smarter move would be to give Waller a raise for the next two seasons and then extend him for a lower rate in 2024.
Waller agreed to his current contract amid his comeback season. He wanted to secure his financial freedom and he was smart to do so. However, ever since the 2020 season, Waller has been campaigning for a new contract, barely a year into the deal.
While Waller has been a good soldier and teammate, showing up to training camp despite his contact status, negotiating with a player with 2 full seasons left on his contract is bad for business. If the Raiders give Waller a raise with 2 seasons remaining, they allow for precedence to be set.
For comparison, if the Raiders rework Waller’s deal with two years remaining, Hunter Renfrow or Chandler Jones could come and request new contacts next season. The Raiders do not want to be reworking contacts every season.
While Waller is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. His prime likely has only a few seasons remaining.
Tuesday afternoon marked the deadline for teams leaguewide to trim their roster to 85 players. With this, the Raiders announced 5 cuts. Who got the axe?
Extending him for a massive cap hit will cripple the Raiders’ salary cap in future seasons. Dave Ziegler should instead give Waller a raise and guarantee his contract for the final two seasons, perhaps in the form of performance-based bonuses, to satisfy his star tight end. Waller makes the Raiders better and they should do everything they can to keep him, but don’t cripple your future for a player that will get older, fast.