Lechler signing huge step for Raiders

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

If the Oakland Raiders are going to turn around their fortunes, Wednesday night's move to re-sign Shane Lechler may be the start of it.

Team executive and spokesman John Herrera confirmed the deal and said Lechler's deal is the best given to a punter in the history of the NFL. Lechler has agreed to a four-year contract that is expected to pay him $4 million a year, which is a monster deal for a punter. It re-affirms the value Raiders owner Al Davis puts on specialists. The Raiders have long had some of the best kickers in the NFL and Lechler's return guarantees more special teams success in Oakland.

It was widely considered that the Raiders were about to lose the perennial Pro Bowl punter to free agency. Lechler and Oakland superstar cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha are free agents. It was widely speculated that Oakland would put the franchise tag on Asomugha, thus allowing Lechler to test the waters. Teams like New England and Denver were expected to make a move on Lechler, who is one of the better punters in the NFL the last 20 years.

There are indications that the Raiders are also trying to lock in Asomugha for a long-term deal. The two sides are working on keeping the cornerback in Oakland, and if a deal isn't finalized, he'll likely be franchised by Thursday's deadline.

If the Raiders can keep both Lechler and Asomugha, it would be a landmark moment for the Raiders, who have won a league-low 24 games in the past six seasons. Both of these are key players, and if Oakland is going to get better, it will be much easier with Lechler and Asomugha in the fold.

Earlier this month, Davis acknowledged that it would be difficult to keep both players, but it wouldn't be impossible.

If Oakland does keep both players, it could limit further movement this offseason, especially after the entire wild spending spree last year. The team will likely release several players, including receiver Ronald Curry and left tackle Kwame Harris. Receiver Javon Walker is also a candidate to be cut.

Keeping its best players is smart business for Oakland compared to last year's disaster in which several big-name players were brought and produced very little. If the Raiders keep Lechler and Asomugha, they are certain to get good value for their money.

Lechler's decision to stay is also good for morale in Oakland. With a player like Lechler deciding to sign on for four more years, it gives the team hope. There was speculation that Lechler, who was reportedly punched by teammate Terdell Sands on a flight home after a win in Denver in November, grew tired of the losing environment in Oakland and was looking to leave.

But he must see something positive there because he would have gotten big money anywhere he went. This was a huge first step for the Raiders as they try to end six seasons of failure.