The Giants committed big money to Daniel Jones because they believed he could lead them back to a Super Bowl if only they could build a better team around him.
On Tuesday, they showed just how committed they are to building that better team.
In perhaps the biggest and boldest move made yet by second-year general manager Joe Schoen, the Giants acquired tight end Darren Waller from the Las Vegas Raiders in a trade for the third-round pick (100th overall) that he got from the Chiefs for troublesome receiver Kadarius Toney back in October. Schoen knew his team lacked weapons in the passing game, and they certainly didn’t have a dangerous receiving tight end.
If the 31-year-old Waller stays healthy — something he struggled to do the last two seasons — he’s shown he can be among the most dangerous tight ends in the league.
[Daniel Jones must make good on Giants’ huge investment]
He also could easily be the most dangerous receiving tight end the Giants have ever had.
If he even comes close to that, he’ll be an enormous help for Jones, the Giants’ newly minted $160 million quarterback. He could also reignite a passing offense that sputtered far too often last season. As good as Jones was, he only threw for 3,205 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Giants’ passing offense ranked just 26th in the league.
A big part of that was because they had one of the worst receiving corps in all of football — and that’s still a position Schoen needs to address. But Jones didn’t get any help out of the tight end position either. His best was rookie Daniel Bellinger, who only had 30 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He also missed five games with a fractured eye socket.
Bellinger has promise, but the 6-6, 238-pound Waller is better. He can step right in and make an immediate difference in the Giants’ offense, giving Jones a trusted target and theoretically opening things up for Saquon Barkley and the ground game.
Of course, that’s if Waller stays healthy. Waller had 83 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns over the last two seasons, but only played in 20 games because of hamstring, ankle and knee injuries. Last season he played in just nine games and caught only 28 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns.
But before the injuries started, Waller was dynamic. After he spent the first four troublesome years of his career in Baltimore — where he was suspended four games in 2016 and then for all of the 2017 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy — he broke out in a big way for the then-Oakland Raiders in 2019 with 90 catches for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns that season.
One year later, with the Raiders in Las Vegas, Waller was even better, catching 107 passes for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns and getting voted into the Pro Bowl.
Those are crazy numbers as far as the Giants are concerned. Four Giants tight ends combined for just 57 catches, 560 yards and three touchdowns last season. No Giants tight end has ever even approached 100 catches (Jeremy Shockey’s 74 in 2002 is the franchise record). And the only Giants tight end to ever hit the 1,000-yard mark was Mark Bavaro, who had 1,001 in 1986.
So having a talent like Waller can be transformative for a Giants’ offense that is just beginning to develop under reigning NFL Coach of the Year Brian Daboll. And there’s little risk, since all he’ll cost the Giants is $11 million in salary and perhaps another $1.5 million in bonuses in 2023. He’s signed through 2026, but there’s no more guaranteed money on his deal after this season. So if it doesn’t work out, the Giants can move on.
But the deal could work out great, especially if Schoen can somehow fix a receiving corps that was littered with fourth and fifth receivers last season, like Darius Slayton (46-724-2), Isaiah Hodgins (33-351-4) and Richie James (57-569-4). Schoen had been downplaying the Giants’ pursuit of a receiver since the end of the season, mostly, according to a source, because he knew the free-agent crop at the position wasn’t good.
He was more focused on a receiving tight end. He even nosed around free agents Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki, according to NFL sources. But their price is expected to be prohibitively high.
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Waller, by comparison, could be a bargain. And he could turn out to be better than the others anyway. If he’s drawing the kind of attention over the middle and down the field that he’s drawn in the past, that could open up a lot for the promising Wan’Dale Robinson, who has 23-227-1 in six games before tearing his ACL as a rookie last year. Presumably Schoen will add a No. 1-type receiver in the draft too, possibly in the first round with the 25th overall pick.
Waller, though, could end up being the centerpiece of the passing game and Jones’ new best friend. He may not be as good as Kansas City’s Travis Kelce or even Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert, but if he’s healthy enough to play a full season he’s good enough to be right near the top of the next tier.
That’s a huge leap over any weapon Jones had at his disposal last season. And the Giants’ hope is that he’ll help Jones and their entire offense take a huge leap next season, too.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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