Darren Waller Discusses Decision To Retire

Former Ravens, Raiders, and Giants wide receiver/tight end Darren Waller — who was just acquired by New York via trade last March — retired earlier this month. When detailing that story, we at PFR cited a report from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, who noted that Waller had informed the Giants of his retirement.

Around the same time, Waller also posted a nearly 18-minute video on YouTube in which he explained the reasoning behind his decision. The entire video is worth a watch, though one of the most notable segments is Waller’s revelation that he was hospitalized in November. He started to feel feverish while driving home and thought he may have contracted COVID-19 for a third time, and when he arrived at his apartment, he said be began to shake and lose consciousness.

“I kept nodding [off] and couldn’t breathe, so I ended up calling 911,” he said (h/t Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post). “I think I’m talking clearly on the phone, but they can’t make out much of what I’m saying.” 

While waiting for paramedics to arrive, he said, “I’m there breathing deeply and in between each breath, I’m yelling out, ‘Help!’ So maybe I could wake the neighbors up. I don’t know how long the time was — it felt like forever — and I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m dying on this couch and nobody knows.’ It was kind of similar to my overdose — like the power plug being pulled out and I couldn’t breathe anymore.”

Ultimately, Waller said he spent over three days in the hospital, and during that time, he was unable to stand up, use the bathroom, or feed himself. His struggle with substance abuse early in his professional career is well-documented and is one of the reasons why his becoming one of the league’s best receiving tight ends was so remarkable, and he indicated that he has maintained his sobriety. Of his November health scare, he said, “it was an experience that would sober somebody up and make them think, at least.”

When speaking about his football career, Waller said that, “the passion has slowly been fading,” which echoes the sentiments he voiced when addressing a potential retirement decision in March. At that time, he said, “if you’re not fully bought into every single thing of the process, it’s going to be tough. I feel like at the end of the day, you’re doing guys a disservice if you’re not all the way in.”

Likewise, during an interview with TMZ Sports shortly after he announced his retirement, he said, “I reached a point where I don’t have that 100 percent to give to the process, I don’t think that’s fair to teammates, or fans, or organizations that are expecting me to give that. That’s why I came to the decision I made.”

Waller, who will turn 32 in September, also revealed plans for a music career, and he and WNBA star Kelsey Plum filed a joint petition for divorce in April after just one year of marriage, per Jenna Lemoncelli of the New York Post. His waning passion for football, his desire to explore other pursuits, and the upheaval in his personal life may all have been contributing factors in his decision to leave the game, with the frightening medical episode sealing the deal.

“I don’t know if I really feel like I would’ve felt great about how my life was going if I died at the time,” he said.

As such, Waller was better able to walk away from the nearly $12MM he could have earned in the 2024 season, which we referenced in our original story on his retirement and which Dan Duggan of The Athletic discussed in more detail.

As Duggan notes, if Waller had been on the Giants’ roster on Week 1 — and he surely would have been, considering his abilities and the shape of the club’s TE depth chart behind him — his $10.5MM base salary for 2024 would have become guaranteed. He could have earned an additional $200K for participating in New York’s offseason program and $75K for each game that he was active.

On top of that, Waller said in his retirement video that he believes he owes the Giants $750K in bonus money stemming from his 2023 restructure. According to Duggan, $8.8MM of Waller’s $9.8MM base salary for 2023 was converted into a bonus for cap purposes, and the remaining $1MM was paid to Waller in the form of a signing bonus. However, Duggan says the Giants are unlikely to pursue the $750K proration from that $1MM payout.

Waller, who indicated he will continue serving as a mental health and addiction advocate, said, “thank you to the Giants. Welcomed me in, making me feel like family and giving me an opportunity to reflect in this time and make a decision.”

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