Raiders re-sign star punter Lechler

Updated: February 19, 2009, 9:34 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

OAKLAND, Calif. -- All-Pro punter Shane Lechler agreed to a four-year contract Wednesday to stay with the Oakland Raiders, allowing the club to avoid a potentially tough choice in free agency.

Lechler could have become an unrestricted free agent next week after being chosen to the AFC's Pro Bowl team for the fourth time in his stellar nine-year career. The deal, sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton, is in excess of $3 million a season. Brian Moorman of the Chicago Bears had been the highest-paid punter at $2.354 million a year.

It was expected Lechler was going to leave knowing that the team wasn't going to give him the franchise tag. Rather than leaving, he accepted becoming the highest-paid punter in football.

"This contract is the greatest ever given to a punter in the history of the National Football League," Raiders senior executive John Herrera told The Associated Press.

The deal also frees up the Raiders to apply the franchise player tag to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, another potential free agent. The Pro Bowl defender also had the tag last season, when he made $9.765 million.

The Raiders have until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday to franchise Asomugha, but talks between both sides heated up Wednesday night with hopes of getting something done.

Without locking down Lechler before free agency begins Feb. 27, Raiders owner Al Davis would have been forced to choose between keeping Lechler or Asomugha, Oakland's other All-Pro -- and Lechler probably would have left.

Lechler, who made $1.5 million last season, has the highest career punting average in NFL history at 46.8 yards. He led the NFL last season with a 41.2 net average, slightly bettering the NFL record he set in 2007.

His skills have been invaluable to the Raiders, who retained Tom Cable as their head coach earlier in the month. Although Lechler has sometimes expressed frustration with Oakland's six consecutive losing seasons, he'll be back for a 10th season with the club in the fall.

If Asomugha is tagged again, he'll get a 20 percent raise to around $11.7 million. The Raiders tried to reach a long-term deal with the University of California product last year, but didn't get a contract.

Information from ESPN.com's John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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