Raiders’ Darren Waller: Tight end position ‘becoming more and more fit to carry a team’s passing game’

The NFL’s offensive evolution into pass-happy schemes has vaulted the tight end position into a prime pass-catching role, where the best are weapons all over the field, less the muddy blockers of yesteryear.

The likes of Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Kyle Pitts and others are capable of leading their passing offense.

Recently joining Chris Long’s Green Light podcast, Waller was asked what’s next for the tight end position.

“I feel like it’s a position that’s becoming more and more fit to carry a team’s passing game,” Waller said. “You see it on a lot of different occasions with myself for a couple years, Travis, for a long period of time, George, Mark Andrews setting franchise records in Baltimore, Kyle Pitts, just guys that have all the abilities necessary to be the focal point of the passing game for teams and hopefully being compensated as such.”

Waller has developed himself into such a weapon, helping carry the Raiders’ offense, including back-to-back 1,100-plus yard seasons in 2019 and 2020. However, the 29-year-old is seeking a new contract better in line with his standing among the top TEs in the NFL. His current average salary of $7.58 million places him 16th among his position in the NFL.

While wide receiver contracts have exploded this offseason, with 12 now making $20-plus million per season, tight ends are well behind that figure. Kittle is the highest-paid TE, earning $15 million per year. The relatively cheap tight-end franchise tender ($10.931 million) led to three tags this offseason. Cleveland’s David Njoku recently signed a long-term deal (worth $13.69 million per year), but Miami’s Mike Gesicki and Dallas’ Dalton Schultz remain without multi-year deals as we head to Friday’s deadline.

With the proliferation of pass-catching tight ends playing vital roles, Waller was asked how teams should go about paying difference makers at the position.

“I don’t know if it’s like a certain benchmark of stats or percentages of places lined up, percentages of routes ran,” he said. “I don’t know what that looks like. I feel like it shouldn’t be that complicated. At the end of the day, you know the impact that a certain guy is having on your team, and he should be paid according to that impact. I feel like it’s the most complex set of skills that you have to have on the field. You look at a certain craft, I mean, quarterback and corner are ridiculously hard to do, but at the same time, the wide range of skills that you have to have, I feel like it’s no more than a tight end, and I don’t think it’s close.”

With the Raiders veterans set to report for training camp on July 20, we’ll see if Waller becomes the latest Vegas player to net a new big-time contract this offseason or whether it’s a situation that will linger into the 2022 campaign.

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