Darren Waller, tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders, is playing under the third-most team-friendly deal in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, he is both underpaid and deserving of a raise, but how much is he worth?
Darren Waller and the Top 5 tight end contracts
There is only one tight end in the NFL that is making $15 million per year and three are making more than $14 million. George Kittle currently sits atop the positional pay structure. Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert, and Mark Andrews. However, the recent extension that David Njoku signed (four-years/$54.75 million) averaging $13.68 million, making him the fifth-highest paid tight end in the league, has blown up the tight end market.
Darren Waller’s stats and resume
Waller has two years and $14 million remaining on his contract. Waller and Kelce are the only two tight ends to have eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark since 2019. In 2020, being targeted 145 times tied Waller with Kelce for sixth-most targets in the NFL. His 107 receptions were both a team record and the fourth-most receptions in the league and earned him a Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro team distinction. Prior to 2021, Waller’s yardage numbers were steadily increasing (1145 to 1196), and the touchdown numbers skyrocketed from 3 to 9. producing back-to-back elite seasons and establishing himself as one of the league’s best.
Waller’s knee injury was the major limiting factor to his production in 2021. Another was the dip in catch percentage. Last season, when he was available, Waller only caught 59.1% of his passes for 7.2 yards per target. Both represent career lows since joining the Raiders. Looking retrospectively, in 2020 it was 73.8% and 8.2 ypt., in 2019 it was 76.8% and 9.8 ypt., and in 2018 it was an impressive 100% and 12.5 ypt. (on 6 targets and catches). It was pretty evident early on that teams were concentrating on making sure he did not catch the football.
By comparison, Njoku’s numbers pale in comparison, and yet he’s making twice as much as Waller. It’s not right. Klutch Sports, the agency representing Waller, is asking for a new contract.
At his best, in a dynastic offense, Waller could be the best pass-catching tight end in football. If healthy for the complete season, Waller is no less than the fifth-best tight end in the league. Consider his age; he will turn 30 this year during the season. His hands were more suspect in 2021 than ever before. Despite the supreme physical advantage he has on his competition, he doesn’t punish smaller defenders. How will his body react to his recovery from an injury? He has taken good care of his body since establishing a clean routine. After all, 30 is the new 25 in today’s NFL. I mean, shoot, Tom Brady is 60 (44 actually) and still playing for Tampa Bay.
That leaves the issue of how much to pay Waller. The Raiders technically don’t owe him a thing. He’s under contract for two more seasons and has already intimated he will not hold out. General manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels have shown that they are ready to reward a player they feel is going to be a cornerstone of this franchise.
He should be in the $14 million range. That’s just where the market is. Klutch Sports should be able to negotiate a contract worth $14-15 million per year with incentives with the Raiders. On the open market, he could be looking upwards at $18–20 million. The length of the deal is where the contract situation gets hung up. Does he get a two-year deal? Maybe a three-year deal with an out. This is probably the best situation for both parties; he gets his money and security and leaves the team able to get out of a bad deal if things go south. Or a four-year mega-deal with two years guaranteed and a third-and-fourth-year roster bonus option, effectively making it a two-year deal with a yearly cut after that.
*Top Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images