By Steve Corkran
Monday, December 10th, 2012 at 2:45 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are the only two players on the Raiders 53-man roster that experienced a winning season with this team. This season marks Lechler’s 13th season, and it just might be his final one in a Raiders uniform.
Lechler is in the final year of the four-year contract he signed in 2009 that made him the highest-paid punter in NFL history. It remains to be seen whether he will be back for a 14th season.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve thought about it, had long discussions with my wife about it,” Lechler said Monday. “It’s one of those things where you don’t have any control over it and it’s kind of frustrating. But, in the same sense, it’s exciting and frustrating at the same time, if it can be that. That’s what it is. Just a lot of long conversations with the wife, we’ve got kids in school now, so we need to figure out something and go from there.”
Lechler said he had high hopes for this season, given the Raiders finished 8-8 each of the past two seasons and came one win away from winning the AFC West last season.
He joined the Raiders as a fifth-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2000, at a time when the Raiders were just taking off under then-coach Jon Gruden.
The Raiders qualified for the AFC Playoffs in each of Lechler’s first three seasons, culminating with a Super Bowl appearance under coach Bill Callahan in 2002.
“I wish that would have happened a little bit later in my career so I wouldn’t have taken it so much for granted,” Lechler said. “We walk right into this thing and go to the AFC Championship Game. I thought that was how it was going to be. Didn’t quite turn out that way.”
No, it didn’t. As it turned out, the Raiders went 4-12 in Lechler’s fourth season and haven’t had a winning season in any of the past 10. They are 3-10 right now.
Through it all, Lechler was the one consistent bright spot for the Raiders, racking up Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections seemingly every season.
This season, Lechler is 10th in gross punting average and 21st in net punting average. Part of that owes to Lechler being bothered by a knee injury that required surgery just before training camp started — he said he didn’t feel 100 percent healthy until midway through this season.
Lechler is playing for his eighth head coach this year. He said it’s imperative the Raiders stick with Dennis Allen and give Allen a chance to turn around the Raiders.
“Though it may not look like it in our record and what’s happened on Sundays, this place is headed in the right direction,” Lechler said.
And Allen is the one of the primary reasons the Raiders are headed in the proper direction, Lechler said.
“D.A. is good for this job,” Lechler said. “He’s got my full support. Somewhere in here, we’re going to have to let a guy coach for a few years to figure out. It’s not much different than the college football. You give a guy four years, let him recruit players, let him develop his players and see how they are then, instead of change and change and change. But this is Oakland.”
General manager Reggie McKenzie and owner Mark Davis haven’t tipped their hand on how they intend to proceed with Lechler.
Well, that is, unless you count the decision to place undrafted rookie punter Marquette King on season-ending reserve.
“Yeah, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it happen before,” Lechler said.
That’s the kind of move that means one of two things: The Raiders intend to let Lechler walk after this season, or they are keeping King on ice in case Lechler opts to sign elsewhere.
“I’m not real worried about it,” Lechler said. “If that’s the direction they choose to go, they choose to go. I don’t have any doubt in his ability. He needs some time.
“It was frustrating for a little while because this is my job, and it has been mine for 13 years. You can feel how you want to about it. 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.’ So, that was one of them that I needed to stop worrying about.”
Long-snapper Jon Condo called Lechler a leader in the locker room and on the field, the kind of guy whose value transcends all the Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections.
Lechler, Condo and kicker Sebastian Janikowski arguably are the best specialists trio in the league.
“I’ve seen punters along the way that can boom a punt 67 yards, but their next might be 20, 30 yards,” Condo said. “He’s always consistent, he’s always there. Just his presence in the locker room and on the field, it’s big for our team. I know with Bass, it’s a safety net for him, it’s a safety net for me, when the three of us are together.
“We all have faith and trust in one another, and that’s a big thing in specialists when you’re out there kicking a field goal or punting a ball from the back of your end zone. Without trust in the guy you’re working with, that’s one thing that has helped out me a lot is having faith and trust. Also, there’s a comfort level. Anytime those guys are on the field you feel comfortable. If you’re comfortable, you’re going to play a lot better.”