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Darren Waller retirement leaves Malik Nabers to rebuild Giants' top skill group

Pat Leonard, New York Daily News on

Published in Football

NEW YORK — It would have been bigger news if Darren Waller had announced he was coming back.

The Giants’ tight end was expected to retire for months. All that was missing was his official announcement, which came Sunday.

“I’ve made the decision that I’ll be retiring from the NFL,” Waller, 31, said on his YouTube channel. “Eternally grateful for the game of football.”

Now that Waller has officially moved on, it is important to contextualize how this reflects on the Giants’ roster and impacts it in 2024.

GM Joe Schoen was asked in April 2023 about making the offense more explosive. He cited the additions of Waller, wide receivers Parris Campbell and Jeff Smith, and linebacker Bobby Okereke as players who upgraded the team’s speed.

One year later, only Okereke remains.

This January, Schoen was asked about whether he remained focused on adding playmakers around Daniel Jones. Schoen cited Wan’Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Darius Slayton, Saquon Barkley and Waller in the foundation of Giants “offensive weapons.”

Five months later, the two best players in that group are gone: Barkley to the rival Philadelphia Eagles and Waller to retirement.

Schoen did draft LSU receiver Malik Nabers No. 6 overall in April to give Jones a new playmaker.

But the problem with Barkley and Waller leaving is that Nabers’ selection didn’t build on top of the Giants’ best skill players this offseason. He simply replaced them.

And here in June, at least, that looks like a giant missed opportunity.

Instead of having three game-changing weapons on offense by year three of the Schoen-Brian Daboll regime, they appear to only have one.

Instead of putting defenses in conflict with Barkley in the backfield, Waller in-line and Nabers in the slot or out wide, there is no secret who Daboll will prioritize as a target and no question which player defenses will double team as a result.

Nabers has looked special this spring, so maybe he really will be a force multiplier who makes everyone on the offense around him better.

Still, if Schoen is going to admit that “we’re not one player away or two players,” like he did before the draft in April, he has to be honest about the fact that he has helped create that problem by whiffing on building blocks like Waller.

Schoen insisted in January that he would go back and trade a third-round pick again for Waller despite the tight end’s disappointing season in New York.

“I would do it again with Waller,” he said. “He was still a productive part of our offense when available. I would do that again every day of the week.”

 

But Waller averaged just 4.3 catches, 46 yards and .08 touchdowns in his 12 games. He caught one touchdown as a Giant, the same amount as Kenny Golladay (in 26 games) and one more than Kadarius Toney (in 12 games), two colossal disappointments of the previous regime.

Schoen’s intent behind the Waller trade was to address his team’s receiver need in a creative way given that year’s poor free agent class and the Giants’ draft position at No. 25 overall after winning a playoff game in 2022.

The Giants actually liked Boston College’s Zay Flowers in that draft, but he came off the board during a run of four consecutive receiver selections from picks No. 20-23. Then the Giants made their move up to No. 24 for Maryland corner Deonte Banks.

There were many flaws in the Waller acquisition, though, that turned a potentially low-risk trade into a more costly miss.

For one, the Giants restructured Waller’s contract after the trade, kicking dead money into the future that the team now will have to eat: about $2.45 million this year and around $4.9 million next season.

Acquiring an expensive, 30-year-old, injury-prone tight end was also made with a win-now mindset as Daboll and some players quietly talked about Super Bowl aspirations. They envisioned Waller elevating them in the short term and building with them long term.

Neither came to pass. And the Giants, for various reasons, failed to avert disaster on offense in the first season of Jones’ four-year, $160 million extension as their newly-minted franchise QB.

A source also said this spring that there actually had been some questions in Las Vegas, in the years preceding the Giants’ Waller trade, about how much longer the Raiders’ tight end would continue playing football.

So it’s discouraging that the Giants made any investment there so close to Waller’s actual decision to hang up his cleats.

Waller was even voted one of the Giants’ 10 team captains in his first season with the team last year. But his exit now means only five of those 10 are still here: Jones, Okereke, left tackle Andrew Thomas, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and kicker Graham Gano.

Barkley and safety Xavier McKinney (Packers) left in free agency. Waller retired. Leonard Williams was traded midseason to the Seahawks. And Adoree Jackson remains unsigned.

The Giants do get $11.6 million in cap space back this season from Waller’s retirement. That could help Schoen reinforce depth and operate in the black during the regular season.

Wouldn’t that money have been better spent making one more offer to Barkley this spring, though, for example, to arm Jones with his best offensive skill group to date?

The end goal should be to have more playmakers, not different ones. The Giants need weapons who can produce and last.

That’s how to build a better offense and a sustainable team. Otherwise, they’re just running in place.


©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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