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Former Raiders star tight end Darren Waller retires at age 31

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By TOM CANAVAN (AP Sports Writer)

New York Giants tight end Darren Waller announced his retirement from playing football on Sunday, saying he “found a lot of joy” in the sport, but “the passion has slowly been fading.”

In a nearly 18-minute video posted on his YouTube channel, the 31-year-old Waller confirmed he’s stepping away from the game after spending the last several months mulling his future.

The Giants had been waiting for Waller to decide whether he wanted to play this season. He had not attended the team’s offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp begins Tuesday.

Darren Waller (12) of the New York Giants looks on during the first half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 18, 2023, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images/TNS) 

Waller detailed a “very scary” medical situation last November while dealing with an injury suffered in a a game a few days earlier. He said he was going home in New Jersey after shooting a music video when he began feeling ill and later started ”shaking like pretty violently” and couldn’t breathe. He said he called 911 and ended up hospitalized for 3 1/2 days.

“I go back into my daily life and I’m pretty clear I almost just lost my life and don’t know if I really feel like if I would have died that I would have felt great about how my life was going if I died at the time,” Waller said. “I’m doing something that I found a lot of joy in and have had amazing moments with, but the passion has slowly been fading.”

He said the experience “kind of forced me into a position to re-evaluate, you know, and I’ve made the decision that I’ll be retiring from the NFL.”

Waller, who dealt with hamstring issues the last three years, was limited to 12 games and had 52 catches for 552 yards and a touchdown in his only season with the Giants. He was due to make $10.5 million in 2024 and count $14.1 million against the salary cap. With his retirement, the Giants save $11.6 million in cap money and take a $2.5 million hit in dead money.

Drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round in 2015, Waller overcame early drug problems to establish himself as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and again for the 2017 season for a second violation of the policy.

Waller has been open about his struggles with addiction, as well as dealing with depression and anxiety.

“I’m eternally grateful for the game of football,” he said. “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. They also gave me an opportunity to reestablish myself to come back into the world and do something productive, provide an example, be a leader, be a difference maker in my craft, but also just in the day to day wherever I go.

“So man, I’m eternally grateful.”

Waller finished his career with 350 receptions, 4,124 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns in 86 games. He played with the Ravens and Raiders before spending his final season with the Giants, who had acquired him in an offseason trade.

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

The Ravens waived Waller before the 2018 season and he was signed to the Raiders’ practice squad. He appeared in four games and had six catches.

His breakout seasons came in 2019 and ’20, when he had a combined 197 catches for 2,341 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the 2020 season and would have also gone the previous year as an alternate, but a thumb injury prevented that.

Waller and Giants coach Brian Daboll exchanged text messages in the offseason, but the coach said last Thursday the team was still waiting for him to make a decision about his playing future.

Much was expected of Waller last season, but he did not deliver for a team that went 6-11 and missed the playoffs a year after Daboll led them to their first postseason berth since 2016.

Waller married WNBA star guard Kelsey Plum in in March 2023, but they filed for divorce in April.

New York drafted Penn State tight end Theo Johnson in the fourth round in the recent draft in case Waller did not come back. Daniel Bellinger and Lawrence Cager return from last season. New York also signed veteran Chris Manhertz in free agency.

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