News that the San Francisco 49ers reached agreement on a new contract for punter Andy Lee came Tuesday after CEO Jed York offered an autographed football to the first person able to guess which acclaimed Niner had a new deal.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman would have been another logical candidate for a new deal among the five All-Pro players York offered as candidates. Patrick Willis (signed through 2016) and Justin Smith (2013) have already signed big-money deals. Bowman and kicker David Akers are signed through 2013.
Lee was the one All-Pro player on the 49ers without a deal past 2012. He set NFL single-season records since at least 1976 for gross (50.9 yards) and net (44.0) punting averages. His 54.2-yard net average at home against Seattle was the second-highest for a game since at least 1976, the first year such stats were tracked officially (minimum four punts). His 59.6-yard gross average for that game was the third-highest.
The 49ers could have let Lee's contract expire and then named him their franchise player at a relatively low cost. Getting a deal done with him shows good faith from the organization. It also makes available the tag for another player, although no obvious candidates come to mind. Naming Dashon Goldson as a franchise player for a second time would be one option, although at an inflated price.
The new contract should make Lee the highest-paid punter in the NFL, or close to it. He has earned that distinction while performing so ably despite playing home games outdoors.
No word yet on which person won the autographed football promised by York.