Photo: USA Today Sports
If there is one thing that you can say accurately about the late, great Raiders owner Al Davis, it is that he was loyal to a fault, and P Shane Lechler is a living, breathing example of that loyalty.
Although the Raiders haven’t had very much to to be proud of in the past 10 seasons since making the Super Bowl last, Lechler has been one of very few bright spots on the team. Many things can be said, both positively and negatively, about how Al Davis ran this organization in his 10 years, but what no one can say (owners, GMs, coaches, players or fans) is that Al made the mistake of drafting the best punter in professional football.
Lechler was drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M, right after long-time friend and teammate K Sebastian Janikowski who went in the first-round that same year. He is a 9x All-Pro, a 7x Pro Bowler, and owns the NFL record for best average per punt in a career (47.3). He also recorded the longest punt in Oakland Raiders history in 2011, booting it 80 yards. He has been in Silver & Black ever since his career started.
Last night, however, Lechler agreed to terms with the Houston Texans as a UFA on a $5.5 million three-year contract with a $1 million signing bonus. It is less than I had expected, after the money he has been paid in Oakland the past several years has been extraordinary, but it was just time. It is of my personal opinion, and the opinion of other Raiders fans as well, that Lechler has been fed up the past few seasons and has wanted to return home to Texas.
With that being said, Lechler has been punting in Oakland since I started watching football, and to sit here and write a personal farewell to him is particularly surreal for me. I don’t often get emotionally attached to players, but between Lechler, Janikowski and Condo, Al Davis single handedly assembled the most successful kicking tandem in the NFL today, and it has been that strong 10 years and counting. It is unimaginable to even picture Shane Lechler in a different jersey. Whether it was the money that Al bestowed on him that was the sole reason for Lechler remaining in the Bay Area as long as he did or not, the fact remains that Lechler has been a Raider for 13 years. I cannot fathom what Jano thinks of his departure to Houston; he must feel like a fish out of water, having had Lechler hold for him since the beginning of his career. Now, the reigns are being passed on to rookie P Marquette King, who sat on the Raiders IR all of last season.
The moment Marquette King was added to the IR, the Raider Nation knew Lechler was on his way out. It is unknown if GM Reggie McKenzie had even made Lechler an offer, or if he simply let him walk. One thing we as fans are sure of is that this needed to be done – Lechler is no longer in his prime, and there is absolutely no way this new era in the Raiders organization was going to throw the kind of money at Lechler that Al once did, especially at his age. I still just thought I would never see the day he’d leave; I truly thought he would retire an Oakland Raider, and I suppose he still could in the end.
Something that I am positive of is that Shane Lechler is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, whenever that day comes. Because the Raiders have been unloading this offseason, signing veteran players for cheap here and there, it is unlikely that Oakland will be making a run in 2013. Lechler has now shifted to a football team that has been in contention the past few seasons, a team that is making legitimate moves to make it to the next level in the playoffs, so at the very least I would like to see him get the Super Bowl he has waited long enough for. He deserves it, and even if you’re the most diehard Raiders fan, you can’t deny it.
Lechler with Janikowski at his first Pro Bowl, 2011.
Happy trails, Shane Lechler – I know that myself and the Raider Nation sincerely appreciate the time and dedication you have given to this organization, through some highs and mostly lows, since the day you walked through the door. Although it is heart-wrenching to watch you go (no doubt I dreaded the day), knowing that you’re finally going home to quite possibly succeed makes it a bit easier. Regardless of NFL analysts and fans of other teams whining about you being overpaid, the fact of the matter is is that you were worth every penny, and you never stopped proving that to the league.
Best of luck to you, a Raiders legend.