Darren Waller reveals near-death experience in NFL retirement video

view original post

The New York Giants’ Darren Waller, who overcame substance abuse issues to become one of the NFL’s highest-paid tight ends, announced his retirement at 31.

In a video he shared Sunday, Waller said a near-death experience away from the field last season, plus a personal “journey” over the past four months, helped crystallize what he wanted.

Describing himself as having been “a people-pleaser my whole life,” Waller said, “This is an opportunity for me to kind of take back the power in my life, start to make choices for myself, take control.”

“I’m eternally grateful for the game of football,” Waller added. “I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation, or to think things through or be self-reflective, if it wasn’t for an opportunity to save my life and go to rehab, which the NFL offered me.”

In an incident Waller said occurred in early November, after he injured his hamstring in a home game against the New York Jets and stayed in New Jersey to work with trainers as the Giants traveled to Las Vegas to play the Raiders, he felt a “fever coming on” as he was going to his home and was “shaking pretty violently, uncontrollably” by the time he got there. Waller said he called 911 and had an agonizing wait for paramedics, during which he felt as though he was “dying on this couch” in a “very scary event.”

Spending the next three-plus days in a hospital in a state of physical infirmity, Waller said, led to a reevaluation of his athletic career and his then-marriage to WNBA star Kelsey Plum. Having tied the knot in March 2023, the pair filed for divorce in April.

“I’m doing something that I found a lot of joy in and have had amazing moments with,” Waller said Sunday of his self-assessment, “but the passion has slowly been fading. You know, I’m with a person that is a great person, but I just feel so many things inside of me being driven by, like, co-dependency. … I feel like I’ve spent most of my life doing what I should be doing and measuring that in the eyes of what people would expect from me.”

Waller’s comments followed news reports earlier Sunday about his retirement plans. A spokesman for the Giants said the team learned from Waller’s agent that the nine-year veteran intended to end his career.

“We have great respect for Darren as a person and player,” the Giants said in a statement. “We wish him nothing but the best.”

Waller stayed away from the Giants’ recent voluntary organized team activities, reportedly forgoing a $200,000 bonus in the process, and became the subject of speculation about his desire to keep playing. Waller’s decision came two days before New York’s players must report for a mandatory minicamp.

As part of a three-year, $51 million contract extension he signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in September 2022 that, at the time, made Waller the highest-paid tight end, he was due $10.525 million in salary this season. His retirement frees up $11.625 million in salary cap space (per Spotrac) for the Giants, who traded for Waller in March 2023.

With Waller bowing out, the Giants’ depth chart at tight end is led by Daniel Bellinger, a third-year veteran drafted in the fourth round two years ago, and the team drafted Penn State’s Theo Johnson this year in the fourth round. Others vying this summer for a tight end job on the Giants include Lawrence Cager, Chris Manhertz and former Philadelphia Eagle Jack Stoll.

New York had sent a third-round pick to Las Vegas in hopes of making Waller a centerpiece of its passing attack, but the hamstring injury derailed a solid start. After leaving the Jets game early, Waller missed the next five contests and, over the final four games to end the 2023 campaign, he averaged just 42 yards with no touchdowns.

Injuries also had limited Waller to 20 games over the preceding two seasons, the last of his five with the Raiders, who helped him blossom into a dangerous weapon in 2019 and a Pro Bowl selection the following year. The Raiders initially acquired Waller off the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens, who had made the former Georgia Tech wide receiver a sixth-round pick in 2015.

By the time he was drafted, as Waller has revealed in the past, he already was addicted to opioids and was in the habit of using other heavy drugs as well. Violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policies landed Waller a four-game suspension in 2016 and then a ban for the entire 2017 season. An overdose on fentanyl-laced pills he took shortly before a 2017 Ravens preseason game, Waller has said, led him to finally enroll in an addiction-recovery program, after which he was reinstated by the NFL ahead of the 2018 season.

“In 31 years, I should have died at least four times — at least — but I’m still here,” Waller said Sunday. He said his recent personal journey made him “look back on getting sober from drugs and alcohol as really just like the tip of the iceberg.”

Waller, who has dabbled in music — and recently released a video for a song in which he appeared to address his split from Plum — said he was at peace with a scenario in which “my passions or the things that I want to be interested in going forward don’t bring me another dime.”

“At this point,” he said, “it’s about becoming who I really am.”