Green Bay Packers

The Packers Ultimately Won By Not Trading For Darren Waller

Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

For the longest time in the Aaron Rodgers era, the Green Bay Packers could not find a truly impactful tight end after injury cut Jermichael Finley‘s career short.

It looked like the Packers might finally snag their guy for the 2022 season, attempting to acquire Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller on two occasions. But Waller never became a Packer because the Las Vegas Raiders traded him to the New York Giants last year. One lackluster season later, and Waller has announced his retirement.

The Packers didn’t get the guy they thought would be the difference-maker. However, a year later, they ended up with a promising dynamic rookie core of Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. The Packers couldn’t find their veteran tight end for Rodgers. Still, it looks like the Green and Gold ultimately got enough talent for Jordan Love.

Why didn’t Waller end up in Green Bay, and why did that work out for the Packers long-term?

For years, the Packers tried throwing bodies at the tight end position, including priority free agents like Jimmy Graham and Martellus Bennett, to early draft picks like Richard Rodgers, Jace Sternberger, and Josiah Deguara. Some would have their moments, like Jared Cook‘s legendary grab against the Dallas Cowboys in the 2016 playoffs. However, they all failed to land a long-term deal or be a consistent threat.

The Packers had a solid core late in Rodgers’ career with Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis. Still, Tonyan couldn’t replicate his fantastic 2020 season, and they primarily used Lewis as a sixth offensive lineman.

The front office believed Waller could be the veteran tight end they needed and tried to acquire him multiple times in 2022.

Waller had his first Pro Bowl season in 2020 after recording 1,196 yards on 107 receptions and scoring nine touchdowns. It was his second season in a row with over 1,000 yards, plus a career-high in touchdowns. His 2021 season wasn’t as prolific, thanks to injuries limiting him to 11 games. Still, he had 665 yards on 55 receptions and two TDs.

The Packers came close to acquiring Waller on their first attempt.

When Davante Adams asked the Packers to trade him, Waller was almost part of the deal that sent the veteran receiver to Las Vegas. The Packers and Raiders had a deal in place that would send Adams to Vegas in exchange for a first-round pick and Waller.

The NFL said no, reminding the teams that a franchise-tagged player who hadn’t signed their offer could not be traded for another player. Adams had no intention of playing on the tag, meaning he couldn’t be traded for another player. Eventually, both teams settled on a new deal, with Vegas offering a second-round pick to Green Bay rather than Waller.

The Packers still desired Waller’s services and tried to trade for the veteran tight end before the 2022 season’s trade deadline but never made the deal happen.

Ultimately, that was a good thing for the Packers.

Waller became the league’s highest-paid tight end in September 2022. However, he took a step further back that season, playing in only nine games. He had 388 yards and three TDs and spent the middle of the season inactive or on IR.

Just a season after making Waller the highest-paid tight end in the league, they traded Waller to the Giants early in 2023’s free-agency period for a compensatory third-round pick.

Waller’s time in New York was unremarkable — another injury-riddled season with below-average production on a bad football team. Waller played in 12 games and finished the season with 52 receptions, 552 yards, and one touchdown.

Sure, the 2023 Giants were a lousy football team overall with no solution at quarterback, even if it didn’t stop Tommy DeVito from carving up Joe Barry’s defense. Still, it was clear in those final two seasons that Waller wasn’t the answer at tight end.

A veteran presence at the position might have been good for Rodgers’ final season. Rodgers tended to favor veterans over rookie receiving options. Still, it’s hard to see Waller moving the needle too much in that season.

Ultimately, the Packers drafted two tight ends in the 2023 NFL draft. Musgrave missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, and Kraft took a few months to become a factor. Still, the early returns on both players are looking good.

In 11 games, Musgrave had 34 receptions, 352 yards, and one touchdown. Kraft had 31 receptions, 355 yards, and two TDs over the full season, with eight games as a starter. The future looks bright for Green Bay’s tight ends.

With Waller’s retirement, it’s clear that things worked out for the best in Green Bay. Waller was a great player and had an impressive career. Still, it’s hard to imagine him topping those 2019 and 2020 seasons, and his price point would have complicated matters elsewhere. The different circumstances may have changed things, but acquiring Waller at that stage in his career may have felt like a repeat of the version of Jimmy Graham the Packers acquired in 2018.

They say that sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don’t make. It’s often frustrating to see Green Bay in the mix for a high-profile player, only for them not to obtain that player. But after seeing how the final years of Waller’s career played out and how bright the future is for Green Bay’s young duo, the Packers should be glad with how things turned out. Waller? I hardly know her.

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