Waller, one of the top tight ends in the NFL, missed a few games with knee and back issues and couldn’t help Las Vegas secure a playoff spot sooner. He missed games between Week 13 and Week 17.
He returned for the team’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 18, which helped secure a playoff spot after all. Waller had two catches for 22 yards in the game.
Not being able to play was challenging for Waller. The one-time Pro Bowler has been forthcoming about his battle with addiction and sobriety and said Wednesday being out of the lineup was difficult.
“Because of my disease of addiction, that can have me thinking all kinds of crazy things. So, I’ve got to make sure that I’m talking about those things when I have all that idle time,” Waller told reporters, via ESPN.
“I’ve got my therapist. Stay going to meetings. Stayed in the playbook. Working on music. Just staying solid, keeping my head out of that idle time and just into things that I enjoy. And stay into the game of football as much as I can.”
Waller will be with the team when the Raiders play the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday.
“It’s tough, honestly, because I’m a human being at the end of the day, and I’m still trying to shed my old thinking patterns. So, when I’m not out there [playing], I can think these thoughts of, ‘The team is balling without me being in there. Am I useless?’ These irrational thoughts,” he said.
“I had to be willing to stay in the practices that I have that bring me back down from that place — ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s not even that anymore.’ — I’m not out there performing, per se, but I still have a role on this team. But sometimes my mind can tell me, ‘Ah, man, you ain’t really doing nothing. You out.’”
Waller, who joined the Raiders in 2019, finished this season with 55 catches for 665 yards and two touchdowns.
He was the Raiders’ nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year in tribute to his charitable efforts off the field. He started the Waller Foundation in 2020 to help children overcome drug and alcohol addiction and to support families during their recovery and treatment.