Giants TE Darren Waller retiring from NFL at age 31

ByJordan Raanan ESPN logo
Monday, June 10, 2024

New York Giantstight end Darren Waller is calling it a career.

Waller, 31, discussed his decision to retire in a video posted to YouTube on Sunday, saying that a health scare he experienced in November gave him clarity about his life.

Waller detailed a "very scary situation" during which he struggled to breathe and ultimately spent 3 days in the hospital unable to stand up, use the restroom or feed himself. Waller didn't disclose the exact nature of the illness he battled.

"I come out of that experience and I'm sitting in the hospital, and I go back into my daily life and I'm like, 'Pretty clear, I almost just lost my life, and I don't know if I really feel if I would have died that I would have felt great about how my life was going if I died at that time.'"

Upon reflecting, he said he "found a lot of joy" and "had amazing moments" playing in the NFL "but the passion has slowly been fading," leading to his retirement decision.

"Eternally grateful for the game of football. I wouldn't be able to have this conversation or to think things through or be self-reflective if it wasn't for an opportunity to save my life and go to rehab, which the NFL offered me," he said. "They also gave me an opportunity to reestablish myself, to come back into the world and do something productive. Provide an example, be a leader, be a difference-maker in my craft but also in my day-to-day wherever I go."

Waller has been open about his struggles with addiction, his sobriety and how rehab following a 2017 overdose helped turn around his life. He has vowed to use his story to help others.

Waller also posted snippets of his video on Instagram.

"We have great respect for Darren as a person and player. We wish him nothing but the best," the Giants said in a statement Sunday.

Waller had stayed away from the team this offseason as he contemplated his future, bypassing a potential $200,000 workout bonus and now a base salary of $10.525 million for this upcoming season.

The Giants get $11.9 million in cap savings this year with Waller as a post-June 1 cut.

New York was expecting an answer by its mandatory minicamp, which is taking place Tuesday and Wednesday. The Giants now move forward with Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager and fourth-round draft pick Theo Johnson at the top of their depth chart at the tight end position.

Waller was traded to New York from the Las Vegas Raiders for a third-round pick in March 2023. He spent the previous five seasons with the Raiders. Waller had a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Raiders and made the Pro Bowl in 2020, when he had 107 catches for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Georgia Tech product was selected by the Baltimore Ravens as a wide receiver in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. But his time in Baltimore was rocky. Waller dealt with substance-abuse problems early in his career that led to multiple suspensions. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season and missed all of the 2017 campaign.

Waller eventually was signed by the Raiders off the Ravens' practice squad during the 2018 season, and he thrived with a new outlook.

In his second season with the Raiders, Waller exploded for 90 catches, 1,145 yards and three touchdowns, after totaling 18 catches for 178 yards in his first four professional seasons. Waller had 350 catches for 4,124 yards and 20 touchdowns in nine seasons with the Ravens, Raiders and Giants.

But this offseason, he has kept busy working on his music -- he released a new song last month -- and he said in an interview with The Athletic he was questioning his "commitment level" to football. He had seemed to be leaning in the direction of retirement, which the Giants knew dating back to January.

Waller andLas Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plumfiled for divorce last month after being married for a year.

Waller's football career in recent years had been affected by injuries, particularly hamstring issues, which forced him tomiss a good chunk of games each of the past two campaigns.

Waller's one season in New York saw him finish with 52 catches for 552 yards and one touchdown in 12 games. He was the team's leading receiver before he hurt his right hamstring in late October that cost him five games.

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