In professional sports as a whole, not just the NFL, every organization will eventually run into a time when they have to make a tough decision about keeping a superstar player who is beloved by the fanbase. Players get older and want more money while teams have an eye toward the future and are worried about the bottom line and/or the salary cap. For the Las Vegas Raiders and tight end Darren Waller, that difficult decision could be coming sooner rather than later.
Per Aaron Nagler of Cheesehead TV, the Green Bay Packers and the Raiders have engaged in trade talks for Waller.
“According to a pair of league sources...the Packers are targeting a veteran tight end. Specifically, Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller,” writes Nagler. “The Packers and Raiders have engaged in talks regarding a trade of Waller with an eye toward a deal getting done during this week’s NFL draft.”
“Waller is also apparently the player the Packers were trying to pry away from the Raiders during the negotiations around the trade of Davante Adams, a move that was nixed when both sides were reminded that league rules prohibit players being part of compensation for a trade of a player on an unsigned franchise tag.”
“Waller will turn 30 in September and still has two years remaining on his deal, one which features no more guaranteed money remaining on it.”
“No word yet on what kind of compensation is being discussed or offered by the Packers.”
Nagler scratched the surface on why Las Vegas might be looking to deal its superstar tight end. Waller is about to be on the wrong side of 30, has an expiring contract and battled the injury bug last season, missing the majority of training camp and five regular-season games. Plus, key players like Hunter Renfrow, Denzel Perryman, Josh Jacobs and Trayvon Mullen — just to name a few — are currently scheduled to play on the last year of their contracts.
So, taking all of this into consideration, the new regime might be hesitant to offer Waller a contract extension this offseason. In fact, The Athletic’s Vic Tafur even said last week on the State of the Nation podcast that a split between the two sides could be coming.
“Moreau will be a lot more affordable than Darren Waller, but I think you can probably get Renfrow and Moreau done,” Tafur said. “You have all these new contracts. You have Chandler Jones, Davante Adams, and now [Derek] Carr. I kind of feel like Waller is kind of the odd man out. I think he probably won’t be here past this year, but you never know.”
Tafur didn’t even mention Maxx Crosby’s new deal in that quote, but the point is, the math might not work out in the Raiders’ favor and they could end up losing one of their best players for nothing if they wait too long.
The part that doesn’t make sense from the Silver and Black’s perspective is why now?
They’ve already handed out a bunch of cash this offseason but are still in the black by about $5.1 million per OverTheCap.com’s effective cap space calculation, and the moves they’ve made suggest they’re going after a Super Bowl run this season. Also, they’ll get some money back on June 2nd, when Cory Littleton’s and Carl Nassib’s contracts come off the books, meaning they have plenty of breathing room cap-wise. So why get rid of a premier player who still has two years left on his contract?
Maybe — and this is pure speculation — Waller is looking to jump ahead of Renfrow and the list of players above, and get his new contract now. From the organization’s perspective, that’d be hard to argue against.
Waller’s current contract carries a per-year average of about $7.6 million, which is a little more than half of what George Kittle — the league’s highest-paid tight end — makes and ranks 17th at the position. Instead of being grouped with other former Pro Bowlers like Kittle, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews on the pay scale, Waller is among the likes of Will Dissly, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Higbee. He even makes less per year than Kyle Pitts, who is about to enter the second year of a rookie contract.
In other words, the Raiders wouldn’t have much of a leg to stand on if Waller asks for a raise. So, if they aren’t going to or can’t give that to him, might as well get something in return, especially since they’re about to head into Thursday’s draft without a pick until the third round.
At this point, all that’s left to do is wait and speculate. Based on Nagler’s report, it does sound like Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler are at least hearing Brian Gutekunst out. But who knows if that means they’re willing to make a deal or just trying to see what value their player has with other teams...Thursday can’t come soon enough!
In other Raiders’ links:
- Carr weighs in on Waller trade: now that you’ve read everything above, here’s what the team’s starting quarterback had to say about trading his top target over the last three seasons: “Lol no chance.”
- Raiders outlook, right-ing wrongs: Is Brandon Parker a legitimate option to man the other offensive tackle spot in Las Vegas?
- Vegas gets ready for the draft: the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign was unveiled with Silver and Black lights for the NFL Draft, however, the unveiling might have been a little more impactful had it been done a little later in the day...
- Draft stories: former teammates Eric Allen and Charles Woodson shared some draft-day stories on the Raiders’ YouTube page.