Darren Waller arrived in New York this past offseason with considerable expectations. The New York Giants, coming off a shockingly successful season, traded for Waller to help bolster their pass-catching group. It's not the first time Waller has changed uniforms during his NFL career, but this is a little different. He's no longer a young player tried to break into the league. He's a veteran, an established talent, and a leader on a youthful Giants team.
Ahead of New York's Week 2 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Waller spoke to The Big Lead, courtesy of Icy Hot. He touched on the trade that brought him to the Giants, his feelings towards the Raiders, and his growing relationships with quarterback Daniel Jones and head coach Brian Daboll. Waller also spoke about the Icy Hot Pro products he uses to help recover from the grind of his profession.
Liam McKeone: Hi, Darren. The last time we spoke was in Las Vegas and you were a member of the Raiders. Now we're in Manhattan and you're with the Giants. How has the transition been for you?
Darren Waller: The transition has been great on a lot of levels. Meshing with the team, coming to the city, it couldn’t have been any better. A lot of people willing to help. You get a little bit of the new kid at school feeling. You gotta figure out where the cafeteria is and the locker room and all that. You gotta figure that out but it’s kind of easy to immerse yourself in the process. At the end of the day, I’ve been in the league for a little bit now. I know how to work, I know how to study, I know how to prepare. Those kinds of things come naturally. It’s been a bit of a separation from my wife, which has been the difficult part of it, but outside of that it’s been amazing.
LM: This isn't the first time you've changed uniforms in the NFL, but it is the first time you're joining a new team as an established player and talent. What's the difference when you come into a locker room and guys know what you're about and what you're capable of?
DW: You embrace the leadership role. I’m one of the older guys on the team now. Whether or not you’re killing it, if you’re still in the league after eight or nine years the young guys are like Man, how are you still here?” Whether it’s in my routine or the attitude I bring, the way I treat people, maybe the little things they can see me doing. I don’t have to preach a whole lot. They can just look at me and see me as an example. I’m taking that seriously and doing things with intentionality on a day-to-day basis and going from there.
LM: Brian Daboll has coached a lot of great tight ends in his career. What has it been like working with him?
DW: From that football knowledge standpoint, it’s a blessed position to be in. He’s seen the position be played at an ultra-high level and he has a standard. You stick to that standard, you’ll be alright. But also he’s just a fun guy to be around. He creates that environment for guys to enjoy being there, building relationships with guys. It’s super important to him and it’s why I feel they had a successful season last year when people were like “Oh my god where’d they come from?” It’s that collective unity and it starts with him.
LM: What was your reaction when you found out the Raiders traded you?
DW: I wasn’t totally shocked by the decision. I knew a couple times during the season I was on the trading block. And then you look at it from an objective standpoint. This guy is 30, going to be 31. He missed time in 2021, missed time in 2022. From their standpoint, this is a guy who’s getting old, has a little bit of an injury problem, they want to go in a different direction. I see things from that angle and taking things personally doesn’t really work for me.
LM: You don't take it personally but do you use it as motivation to try and prove them wrong?
DW: That kind of emotion of like, stick it to them, it drains me more. It gets me focused on the wrong things. We play the Raiders later on, it’ll be a mixture of emotions with all the good memories I have there and the relationship with the fans. But I don’t have any type of negative emotions towards the Raiders. Mostly gratitude.
LM: That mindset certainly sets you apart from a lot of other guys in this league who have chips on their shoulders.
DW: I feel like with the stuff I’ve been through in life, resentments and harboring that kind of energy hurts me more than it hurts them. They’re not necessarily worried about me. I feel like me worrying about the Raiders, what is that really doing for me?
LM: What's the difference between Brian Daboll and Josh McDaniels as coaches?
DW: There are a lot of similarities as far as principals and offensive terminology. I feel like I only had to learn 60 percent of the new playbook because a lot of things come from New England. Similar brains, similar mindsets on how to win. Difference-wise, I feel like Daboll is creating that fun environment where guys are screaming and laughing. McDaniels is like, Hey, bro, we’re here to work. We have fun when we win so let’s get to it, type of thing. The day-to-day in New York is a little bit looser than McDaniels. There’s nothing wrong with either one.
LM: Which kind of environment do you feel suits you best as a player?
DW: For me as a player I would say the looser environment because some days it just makes it more fun to show up to work. And that’s the underrated part. You get to a point where it’s a tough part of the season and you want to remember that football is meant to be fun. That’s the one you want to be in more but a lot of times you don’t have a choice.
LM: What's it like catching passes from Daniel Jones?
DW: Daniel throws a catchable ball. A lot of people see a quarterback and he can rifle it but sometimes it’s not all that great for the guy catching it. When it’s time to zip it, he zips it, but he throws a nice touch on the ball. A good, catchable ball. I feel he’s grown in his anticipation and he’ll give guys a chance to win. I feel like he’s given me a chance to win in OTAs, training camp, preseason. I feel like if I get open, he’ll find me. That’s all you can ask for in a quarterback. We can talk about the details of a route, the timing, without ego being involved. He’s just a real mellow guy. He had a part of his career where people were on his head about his performance but he’s found a way through with a resilient mindset. We connect there and it’s allowed our relationship to flourish.
LM: How does Icy Hot work into your recovery process?
DW: With football training, you sprain a shoulder, hammy, knee, helmet to the thigh, it’s always something. You’re getting crunched out there. Icy Hot is something that helps with the small things that you want to get to go away, like bruises and lumps. It’s really key with those things.
It also helps if you’re dealing with any kind of muscular injury. It can keep it loose. It gives you the cool element with the hot contrast. It helps a lot.