For 13 seasons, through a parade of head coaches, their assistants and hundreds of teammates, punter Shane Lechler has been a constant on the Oakland Raiders.
But there are indications that the 2012 season may have been the seven-time Pro Bowler’s last in silver and black.
Lechler, 36, just completed the last year of a four-year, $16 million deal as the highest-paid punter in NFL history. And, as General Manager Reggie McKenzie goes into the offseason prepared to pare the roster and clear salary cap space, it’s been speculated that the Raiders will let Lechler go elsewhere in 2013.
Lechler is part of a group of veterans, including defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, middle linebacker Rolando McClain and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey who appear to have played their final game for Oakland.
As noted by Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group this week, the Raiders kept an injured punter, Marquette King, on injured reserve all season to compete for a roster spot in 2013.
King, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Fort Valley State in 2012, hurt his foot in training camp.
Before his injury, King was impressive, getting many of the reps during summer because of a knee injury that kept Lechler on the sidelines.
King showed a powerful leg that some compared to former NFL great Reggie Roby.
“When he hits it, he hits it as good as anybody,” head coach Dennis Allen told the San Francisco Chronicle in August. “He’s just got to work on staying consistent.”
In August, the Chronicle’s Vic Tafur reported that King had changed his technique since college, adopting a quicker 1½-step approach rather than the two-step drop he had used in college.
“To be honest, I know when I hit my A ball I am just as good as any punter,” King told Tafur. “I felt like I wasn’t trying to come out here to take anyone’s job, just to learn and get better.”
In his senior season at Fort Valley State, King led his conference with a 43-yard average, and 16 of his punts were for 50 yards or more, including an 80-yarder and another of 76 yards.
Now, with Lechler’s contract expired and the Raiders apparently unlikely to re-sign him, the way could be cleared for King to earn the job next season.
In December, Lechler told the Chronicle he wasn’t worrying about next season, or the prospect of King now being in line to supplant him.
“If that’s the direction they choose to go, they choose to go,” Lechler said. “I don’t have any doubt in his ability. He needs some time.”
Nor is there any doubt about Lechler’s ability.
This past season, Lechler was seemingly hampered by his knee troubles, and didn’t post the number he has in seasons past. In 2012, his average of 47.2 yards per punt almost matched his career average of 47.5, but was down from his 50.8 and 51.1 marks of 2011 and 2009, and his net average of 39.0 was his lowest since 2006. Lechler is the NFL’s all-time leader in gross punting average.
Though Lechler may not be sticking around, in December he gave a vote of confidence to Allen and the new Raiders regime, saying the franchise needs to stick with the head coach, maintain some consistency and allow a new leadership time to turn things around.
“Though it may not look like it in our record and what’s happened on Sundays, this place is headed in the right direction,” he told Tafur.