EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Newly acquired tight end Darren Waller is embracing the change of scenery and approach from the New York Giants after five seasons with the Raiders.
Most notably, Waller feels empowered in the culture that coach Brian Daboll has established compared to those of his previous stops.
“Yeah, they value our opinions here,” Waller said Thursday after standing out in the Giants’ third OTA workout this spring. “As a player, I feel like a lot of places I’ve gone, you’re told to do things a certain way and you do those things. But here it’s like, they ask a lot of questions. They want to know what you’re thinking, what you want to do more.
“So to offer input is a really cool thing because coaches and players have to be in partnership. We’re all together and shouldn’t be clashing with each other. We’re all going in the same direction.”
This is a staple of Daboll’s approach. He famously was hired by the Giants and immediately asked quarterback Daniel Jones and many of the team’s top playmakers to send him their favorite plays. Daboll took those plays into consideration when constructing the playbook for last season, when New York went 9-7-1 and won a playoff game.
Waller’s year didn’t go as seamlessly. He comes to the Giants after five seasons with the Raiders, where he played under Jon Gruden and most recently Josh McDaniels. Neither has the reputation of being the most player-friendly coach.
Las Vegas dealt Waller six months after signing him to a $51 million contract extension. He had an uneven campaign last season that was plagued by injuries. Waller had just 28 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns in nine games, his least productive season since his first year with the Raiders.
It was challenging on multiple fronts. The relationship between Waller and the Raiders was characterized as “rocky” by one source close to the tight end who spoke to ESPN earlier this offseason. In particular, there was a point of contention when Waller left during the bye week to propose to Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum instead of rehabbing and didn’t provide the team an explanation of where he was going.
That’s all in the past now. The Giants offered a fresh start.
“It’s different from team to team. I’m on my third now. There’s different cultures everywhere you go. There is different types of energies,” Waller said. “This is a really light place, a really fun place, a really empowering place where you just be yourself always. And as long as you’re not putting the team at risk by getting a flag or things like that, you can really let your personality show.
“That’s what I love about being here. It’s just been fun. It’s also been challenging. Guys holding you to a high standard since I got here and I try to reciprocate that.”
The Giants have big plans for Waller. He’s considered their No. 1 receiver.
It took all of one play Thursday to recognize his presence. Waller beat slot cornerback Darnay Holmes badly off the line of scrimmage and caught a deep pass down the right sideline from Jones. It immediately exemplified the kind of impact they are hoping the dynamic playmaker has in Daboll’s offense.
It was the type of big play the Giants lacked last season and envisioned when trading a third-round pick to the Raiders for Waller. New York finished dead last in the NFL with just 28 pass plays of 20-plus yards.
The first few months have been encouraging. It’s not just on the field where the Giants have been impressed working with Waller.
“He’s a true pro,” Daboll said. “He’s been really good for us in the meeting rooms, gives good input. Good communicator. Has some leadership skills. He’s been a good guy to work with.”
The good vibes are being reciprocated.