Shane Lechler admitted this week that this, his 13th season with the Raiders, might be his final year in Oakland. And yes, the seven-time Pro Bowl and six-time All-Pro punter said the same thought crossed his mind before.
"Four years ago, I think," Lechler told reporters. "Signed the contract two days before free agency. I didn't hear anything from Oakland until then…and that was kind of a frustrating situation to be in."
Being made the richest punter in NFL history by Al Davis, courtesy of that four-year, $16-million deal in 2009, probably soothed any sore feelings. But that deal is expiring at the end of this season and Lechler will become an unrestricted free agent.
And with the new regime of Reggie McKenzie already showing it is not afraid to shed high salaries, how much would the Raiders be willing to pay a 37-year-old (next August) punter coming off a relatively so-so season? Even if Lechler and placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, both of whom were part of the same 2000 draft class, are favorites of owner Mark Davis.
Lechler, who underwent surgery on his left (non-kicking) leg this offseason and was slowed early, has only recently shown flashes of his booming punts that have made him the NFL's all-time leader in gross punting average as he entered the season with a career mark of 47.6 yards.
But his current gross average of 47.3 yards per punt is just 11th in the NFL and his net average of 38.3 is 23rd and his lowest since 2006.
Then there's the specter of the Raiders keeping highly-touted but raw undrafted rookie punter Marquette King on injured reserve after a weight-room accident
resulted in his left foot being placed in a boot late in camp. If Oakland is truly changing the culture, what makes more sense going forward -- a $4-million a year all-world punter who would probably not make much difference on a rebuilding team, or a malleable punter making basically minimum wage, which would free up money for other signings, who could grow with said rebuilding team?
"It was frustrating for a little while because this is my job, and it has been mine for 13 years," Lechler told the Oakland Tribune, referring to King's presence. "I took it a little bit personal early, but after that I was like, 'You know what? I can only worry about so many things around here.'
"That was one of them I needed to stop worrying about."
Besides, the first time he punts Sunday against Kansas City in the Raiders' home finale will be the 1000th punt of his career. And after playing in the AFC title game as a rookie, the Tuck Rule game his season season and in the Super Bowl his third year, Lechler has not experienced a winning season since. He has, though, seen his share of head coaches, from Jon Gruden to Bill Callahan to Norv Turner to Art Shell to Lane Kiffin to Tom Cable to Hue Jackson to Dennis Allen.
And yes, Lechler thinks his old recruiting host at Texas A&M, Allen, deserves to return, even with the 3-10 Raiders in a six-game tailspin.
"Yeah, I do," Lechler said. "I think D.A. is good for this job. He's got my full support. I think somewhere in here we're going to have to let that guy coach for a few years to figure it out. You know, I mean it's not much different than college football.
"You give a guy four years, you let him recruit players, let him develop his players and see how they are, instead of change and change and change. But this is Oakland, so…"
So, should the Raiders retain Lechler, or is King the future in Oakland?