Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler has done a good job locking in key playmakers for years beyond the 2022 season. They have signed quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Davante Adams, and edge-rusher Maxx Crosby to lucrative extensions. Tight end Darren Waller could be next on the list.
Waller dropped the news on the Ross Tucker Podcast this week.
“My agent is working on that,” Waller said. “I understand it, but I know if I focus on it too much, it could take away from my job and learning a new system and just continuing to try to elevate and take care of my body in the right way. I try to focus on those things and let my agent handle that. When decisions need to be made, decisions need to be made.”
Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller has earned a raise
The Cleveland Browns signed tight end David Njoku to a four-year, $54.75 million contract with $28 million in guarantees. We should expect Waller to top that deal since he’s racked up 258 receptions for 3,081 yards and 14 touchdowns in 47 games with the Raiders. For comparison, Njoku has 148 catches for 1,754 yards and 15 touchdowns in 65 career contests.
As the primary target in the Raiders’ aerial attack for most of the last three years, Waller’s agent can command more than $14 million annually with $36 million in guarantees as it relates to Njoku’s deal.
Even though Waller turns 30 years old in September, he’s a rare playmaker at tight end who probably has a few more optimal playing years left in the tank. The Pro Bowler only took the field for 321 offensive snaps between 2015 and 2018 as he battled drug addiction but emerged as Carr’s top receiving threat in 2019.
In 2020, Waller claimed the Raiders’ single-season record for receptions (107), topping Hall of Famer Tim Brown’s total of 104 catches in 1997.
Despite missing six games last season, Waller still finished second on the team in receptions (55) and receiving yards (665). If healthy, he’ll probably head into the 2022 season as the No. 2 pass-catching option behind wideout Davante Adams, which leads us to why Hunter Renfrow may have to wait a few months for his extension.
Why Hunter Renfrow will have to wait for a pay increase
Obviously, the Raiders cannot pay everyone right away. They took care of their quarterback and best homegrown defensive player. If Ziegler intends to sign a free agent or two before training camp and give Waller an immediate raise, he’ll need to save some cap space in case the club has to fill roster holes because of injuries before Week 1.
Even with an additional $19.75 million in cap space from their designated post-June 1 cuts, the Raiders may not have the financial resources to pay Renfrow an appropriate salary after he recorded 103 catches for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021.
Remember, Renfrow had been Carr’s No. 1 option for an extensive stretch while Waller nursed a knee injury late in the 2021 term. Will he top 1,000 receiving yards and score nine touchdowns as the No. 3 target in the passing offense? Probably not. Plus, that’s a tough feat if McDaniels revitalizes the ground attack.
With Carr, Adams, Crosby, and left tackle Kolton Miller all ranked within the top eight at their respective positions in contract average annual value (AAV), per Over the Cap, the Raiders may pump the brakes on extensions if they come to terms with Waller’s camp in the coming weeks.
Renfrow isn’t going to break the bank, but he’s certainly outplayed his salary for the 2022 season. With that said, his receiving numbers could drop off if Adams and Waller command most of the targets in the upcoming campaign.
Going forward, with Adams and Waller healthy, the Raiders will have a more accurate read on Renfrow’s production rate. For that reason, don’t expect the front office to rush into negotiations with his camp, especially after a season in which he saw an elevated target volume because of a depleted pass-catching group.
Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.