Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders are coming off an awe-inspiring Week 1 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Derek Carr looked like a legitimate franchise quarterback, tight end Darren Waller couldn’t be stopped, and the team’s defensive line caused enough chaos up front to throw Lamar Jackson off his game.
All was well in Raider-land until Gruden made some ill-advised comments about Waller following the victory.
Jon Gruden on Darren Waller: ‘He’s the best player I’ve ever coached’
Waller is fresh off a 10-catch, 105-yard performance, and Gruden is jazzed up about pulling off the upset against Baltimore — it’s understandable for him to throw praises Waller’s way. Since arriving at the Raiders, the six-year veteran TE has worked tirelessly to establish himself as a top receiving threat. Many consider him the third-best TE in the sport.
To put it bluntly, Waller deserves every ounce of praise. However, it’s Gruden’s timing that could ultimately screw over the Raiders and their front office.
Waller recently hired a new agent and is reportedly looking for a new contract with the Raiders sooner than later.
Darren Waller can force the Raiders to break the bank
Up to this point, Waller’s contract is largely considered one of the biggest bargains in the NFL. His average annual salary is just $7.45 million. That sees him ranked 12th compared to other tight ends around football (Over The Cap). His salary even trails rookie Kyle Pitts.
While Waller technically isn’t due for a new contract until 2024, it wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest to see him and his new agent play hardball with Gruden and the Raiders.
It’s not uncommon in today’s NFL for overperforming players to hold out in the middle of a deal. Plus, Waller’s hiring of a new agent reflects he’s unhappy with past representation.
Why continue to play on such a low salary when you’re performing like a top-three tight end in the sport?
Jon Gruden likely meant no harm with his comments
For what it’s worth, Gruden presumably wasn’t trying to sabotage his own front office. He’s coming off an emotional Week 1 win and was attempting to credit his top-performing player. However, sometimes even the most innocent of actions have consequences.
As Mike Garafolo mentions, Waller and his new agent will stash this comment away for future use. It’d be pretty hard to ignore Waller’s pleas for more money when the team’s head coach literally refers to him as the “best player” he’s ever coached.
There’s no guarantee that Waller will push the Raiders front office to give him more money. However, the signs do appear to be pointing in that direction. He’s arguably the team’s best player, he’s grossly underpaid, and he’s likely to record another impressive season from a stats perspective.
Hypothetically, if Waller were to lead the Raiders to the postseason this year, his case for receiving a raise would be even stronger.
Ultimately speaking, it was a wholesome, feel-good comment from Gruden. However, it’s hard to ignore the potential financial implications it may have on Las Vegas’ cap space.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.