Giants: Could last offseason’s blockbuster acquisition be a one-and-done?

New York Giants tight end Darren Waller (12) makes a catch in front of Philadelphia Eagles safety Tristin McCollum (36) during the second half at MetLife Stadium
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2024 NFL season approaches, the New York Giants find themselves contemplating the future of tight end Darren Waller. Despite his consistent production when healthy, Waller’s injury-riddled past raises questions about whether the team should retain him and how they can manage his contract effectively.

Darren Waller fell short of expectations this season

Acquired last offseason in a blockbuster trade with the Las Vegas Raiders, Waller was supposed to be the answer for the Giants’ search for a 1,000-yard receiver that they haven’t had since Odell Beckham Jr. in 2018.

In training camp, Waller looked unstoppable and was even labeled Daniel Jones’ version of Travis Kelce. Unfortunately, his dominance in training camp did not translate into regular-season success.

While Waller was productive on the field, his level of play was nowhere near what was expected coming out of camp. Despite missing five games with a hamstring injury, he managed to finish as the team’s second-leading receiver, with 52 catches for 552 yards, with a catch percentage of 70.3% and a career-low passer rating of 85.0 when targeted.

He only averaged around 4.3 catches and 46 yards per game, while also scoring just one touchdown, which was disappointing considering his expected role as the team’s primary receiver.

Should the Giants move on from Waller to free up cap space?

The Giants could choose to pick up Waller’s three-year, $51 million extension; however, picking up that deal for a player who can’t stay healthy is a huge risk. While Waller’s contract figure appears hefty for a player with an injury history, the dilemma lies in whether Giants GM Joe Schoen should restructure his contract or explore cutting him altogether.

Waller’s cap hit for the upcoming season amounts to $14.08 million, consisting of a base salary of $10.52 million and a dead cap hit of around $7.8 million, according to Spotrac. Restructuring the contract may provide short-term relief by reducing the cap hit, but it will only contribute to further dead money down the line.

Cutting Waller before June 1 would save the Giants $6.7 million, but it would result in $7.37 million in dead money. Alternatively, a post-June 1 cut would generate $12 million in cap space while only carrying a $2 million dead cap hit, as per Over The Cap.

The G-Men currently possess over $27 million in available cap space, according to Spotrac, ranking them 17th in the league. While that is a solid figure, the Giants still need to free up more cap space if they plan on being active in free agency.

Giants GM expects Waller to return next season

When reflecting on the Waller trade, Schoen said that he’d “do it again every day of the week.”

“Yeah, I would do it again,” Schoen said monday. “I would do it again with Waller. I mean, you guys saw him this spring, you saw him in the summer. Unfortunately, he had the injury before the Dallas game. Again, he was still a productive part of our offense when available. I would do it again every day of the week.”

Joe Schoen via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post

Schoen stated that the “expectation” is that Waller will be back next season, but it’s important to take what Schoen says to the media with a grain of salt.

Balancing Waller’s productivity with his injury history and the financial implications of restructuring or releasing him presents a challenging decision for the Giants. On one hand, Waller’s contributions when healthy are undeniable, and Schoen does seem to be leaning on him returning. On the other hand, committing significant cap space to a player with persistent injury concerns could hinder the Giants’ ability to strengthen their roster elsewhere.

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