The Inside Story of Why the Las Vegas Raiders Traded Darren Waller

New reporting from PFN Insider Adam Caplan sheds light on why the Las Vegas Raiders traded tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants.

In March, less than a year after signing him to a three-year, $51 million extension, the Las Vegas Raiders traded tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants in exchange for a third-round pick. The veteran pass catcher had spent the past five seasons with the Raiders, posting two 1,000-yard campaigns during that time. What led to his ouster from Las Vegas?

Why the Las Vegas Raiders Traded Darren Waller

According to Pro Football Network Insider Adam Caplan, the Raiders became “wary of Waller missing significant time over the last two seasons.” Waller, 30, has missed 14 games since 2021.

Two years ago, Waller dealt with an ankle injury throughout the preseason before aggravating the issue during the regular season. Then, in Nov. 2021, he suffered an IT band strain that kept him out of action until January.

Last summer, Waller suffered a hamstring injury that forced him out of practice for roughly a month. In October, he was forced to the injured reserve thanks to another hamstring issue before returning to the field in mid-December.

The Raiders did not have any off-field concerns about Waller, per Caplan. Instead, as a pro personnel source noted, teams prefer to move on from players a year too early rather than a year too late.

A Georgia Tech product, Waller began his career with the Baltimore Ravens after being selected in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. After substance abuse issues put his career on pause, he ultimately became a star after signing with the Raiders in 2018.

Waller was the Raiders’ leading receiver in both 2019 and 2020. In both seasons, he finished behind only Travis Kelce in terms of league-wide tight end receiving yardage. Waller finished third in Comeback Player of the Year voting in 2019 before earning a Pro Bowl berth the following season.

Before trading Waller to the Giants, the Raiders reportedly received at least one other offer. The Green Bay Packers were interested in acquiring Waller at the 2021 trade deadline, but Vegas ultimately decided to hang onto him.\

How Will the Raiders Replace Waller?

Waller’s upside won’t be easy to restore, but the Raiders may have found their tight end of the future in April’s draft. After watching fellow TEs Dalton Kincaid and Sam LaPorta come off the board at pick Nos. 25 and 34, respectively, Las Vegas decided to move up, shipping a fifth-rounder to the Indianapolis Colts for the right to draft Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer at No. 35 overall.

Mayer is a different type of player than Waller, who was a better receiver than a blocker and spent a decent portion of his snaps in the slot or out wide. Mayer is Notre Dame’s all-time leading receiver among tight ends, but he’s more of an inline TE than Waller.

The Raiders also signed free agent tight ends Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard, giving them more depth at the position after losing Waller. Hooper, who managed a 41-444-2 receiving line with the Tennessee Titans in 2022, might begin training camp as Las Vegas’ starting TE. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Mayer has usurped the veteran by the time the regular season rolls around.

Who Did the Raiders Draft with the Pick They Acquired for Waller?

The Giants sent the No. 100 overall pick in the 2023 draft to the Raiders in exchange for Waller. New York originally acquired that selection when they dealt wide receiver Kadarius Toney to the Kansas City Chiefs before the 2022 trade deadline.

With their new third-round choice, the Raiders selected Cincinnati wideout Tre Tucker. The former Bearcat ranked just 211th on PFN’s Industry Consensus Big Board and never topped 700 receiving yards in any of his four collegiate seasons.

However, Tucker could carve out an early role on special teams. He returned 67 kicks for 1,670 yards and two touchdowns at Cincinnati and might be assigned the same duties in the NFL. On offense, Tucker may find it challenging to compete for snaps or targets in a Raiders receiving corps that includes Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, and Hunter Renfrow.

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