Was Near-Death Experience a Factor in Waller’s Decision?


Dec 25, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Giants tight end Darren Waller (12) in the tunnel against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

(East Rutherford, NJ) – It appears Darren Waller’s initial – and only – season with the New York Giants was more eventful than most realized.

The former Pro Bowl tight end has opened up about his decision to retire from the NFL, and a crazy near-death experience last November may have been a factor. Waller says he had to be hospitalized after calling paramedics to his apartment in North Jersey – he was having breathing and said he feared the worst.

“It was a very scary situation,” Waller explained in a YouTube video formally announcing his retirement.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

“I ended up going to the hospital for 3 ½ days. Couldn’t stand up and … use the bathroom or feed myself. It was an experience that would sober somebody up and make them think, at least. I say all that because … I go back into my daily life, and it’s pretty clear I almost just lost my life. And I don’t know if I really feel like I would’ve felt great about how my life was going if I died at the time.”

Waller eventually returned to the field and got back into game action on December 17. He’d previously suffered a hamstring injury as well, and had dealt with various nagging ailments during his time with the Raiders – prior to the trade to New York.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

During his otherwise unspecified medical incident in November, Waller says he was “shaking uncontrollably” and event started to “(lose) consciousness” in his apartment. “I kept nodding [off] and couldn’t breathe, so I ended up calling 911.”

Waller says even his attempt to get help was precarious:

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

“I think I’m talking clearly on the phone, but they can’t make out much of what I’m saying.” The 6’6”, 245 pound Maryland native stumbled to the couch: “I’m there breathing deeply and in between each breath, I’m yelling out, ‘Help!’ ” Waller recounted. “So maybe I could wake the neighbors up. I don’t know how long the time was — it felt like forever — and I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m dying on this couch and nobody knows.’ It was kind of similar to my overdose — like the power plug being pulled out and I couldn’t breathe anymore.”

Waller is a drug and alcohol addict who got sober in 2017 while playing with the Baltimore Ravens. He also became an advocate for mental health after that period.

Waller says he has maintained his sobriety and did not suggest as though that was a factor in his recent health issues. He says when the health issue in November cropped up he initially felt feverish and thought he had come down with COVID-19 for a third time.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) throws to wide receiver Darren Waller (12) during organized team activities (OTA’s) at the Giants training center on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in East Rutherford.

Waller is also dealing with the fallout of his divorce from WNBA star Kelsey Plum. A caption accompanying his retirement video reads:

“I sat down and discussed everything thats gone into my decision (which you can find on my Youtube channel), but I’ve decided to retire from the game of football. To God: what a journey, and thank you. We took it way farther than I ever could have imagined! So grateful for all the ppl I’ve been able to connect and create memories with along the way. We still got plenty more life left to live. Love you all. Peace.”

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As a result of his retirement, Waller is walking away from a remaining $35 million on the final three years of his current contract. Explaining the decision further, Waller said “I’m doing something [football] that I found a lot of joy in … but the passion has slowly been fading,” Waller said.

“I feel like I spent most of my life doing what I should be doing. I’ve been a people-pleaser my whole life — somebody that has struggled with worth, confidence, feeling valuable.”

Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

He also expressed his appreciation for Big Blue, having played just the one season in the Meadowlands: “Thank you to the Giants. Welcomed me in, making me feel like family and giving me an opportunity to reflect in this time and make a decision.”

One thing that is a bonus for the Giants: added cap space. With Waller retiring, the club immediately frees up nearly $12 million in cap space, with a dead money charge of $2.458 million in 2024.

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