HOUSTON -- As Houston Texans punter Shane Lechler sat on the couch watching the Denver Broncos play the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl, he longed to be there again. He turned to his wife and told her he wasn't ready to walk away yet.
"I’ve played 16 years and it’s been good, but I’m not ready to hang it up by any means," Lechler told me last week during Loves in Fashion, a charity event hosted by Texans COO Cal McNair and his wife, Hannah McNair. "I’m interested in where this new deal starts. Hopefully back here, but we’ll see."
Lechler will be a free agent next month. The last time Lechler entered free agency with as much uncertainty as he will next month, he came to Houston chasing a Super Bowl ring. The Texans were coming off a 12-4 season and many inside and outside the organization expected them to be contenders in 2013. Instead, the Texans went 2-14 in 2013 and underwent a coaching change. They missed the playoffs in 2014, the second year of Lechler's three-year deal and saw a first-round exit in 2015.
Now Lechler is headed back to free agency, still looking for a Super Bowl ring.
"I played in the Super Bowl one time, didn’t get a chance to win it," Lechler said. "I want to win one. That’s my main goal. I go into every Sunday, even when I was on a 2-14 team here, 2-14 team twice in Oakland, I never went on the field thinking I wasn’t going to win. I want to win a championship. I’m not going to sit here and say I deserve to win one, because I had that chance. I want to win one."
I asked Lechler early in the 2015 season if he felt that Houston was a place where he could reach that milestone and he said yes. I asked the same question last week during this conversation and he quickly said he does believe he can win a Super Bowl with the Texans.
"Are there pieces to the puzzle that maybe need to be addressed? Yeah," Lechler said. "But there’s also 31 other teams that have pieces that need to be addressed or will need to be addressed. We’re just trying to put them together the right way here. I think with the staff we have,the ownership we have, it can be done. We started the year off 2-5 and we turned it around. ... I’d love to be a part of it."
A native of East Bernard, Texas, coming to Houston was a chance to go home. And while Lechler said he would love to return to Houston, he's keeping an open mind about where he might play next year. He'll be 40 next season and might face the prospect of teams wanting a younger player. But Lechler is also one of the best to have ever done it, and that will work in his favor as he looks for another landing spot.
Lechler wants to play two more years, three if he can. After he finishes playing he wants to be a coach and thinks he'll be ready to walk away from playing when he's ready to become a coach.
"I never liked this," he said of free agency. "... It's not fun not knowing where you're going to be. ... Do I like it here? Yes. I will always be a Texans fan. I like the organization I like what’s going on but we’ll see what happens. I’m not going to totally tie myself to this deal because that’s just how the business is."