OAKLAND, Calif. -- All-Pro punter Shane Lechler agreed to a four-year contract Wednesday to stay with the Oakland Raiders, allowing the team 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 NFL career. The Raiders didn't disclose financial terms of the deal, but it's believed to make Lechler the highest-paid punter in NFL history.
"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.
NFL Network's Adam Schefter reports that Lechler's deal is worth $12 million over four years, with $9 million guaranteed.
The deal also frees up the Raiders to apply the franchise-player tag to Nnamdi Asomugha, another potential free agent. The Pro Bowl cornerback also had the tag last season, when he made $9.765 million.
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.
Lechler's 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 team in the fall.
If Asomugha is tagged again, he'll receive 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 couldn't do so.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press