When a quarterback, running back or wide receiver signs a big contract there are a number of ways that analysts use to decide if they are worth it. How productive are they on pass completions, carries, or receptions is one way to look at it. How many touchdowns they put up is another statistic that people use to measure a player’s value. Still another way is to try and judge how much better that player makes their team than they would be without him. It is a little harder to quantify a value for non-scoring positions like cornerbacks, defensive linemen, linebackers and offensive linemen. But, one of the hardest positions to put a value on is punter.
Teams only have to use a punter when the offense stalls or fails to do its job. Punting is not the most exciting part of a team’s playbook, but it is necessary. Pinning an opponent back near their goal line is a big advantage as starting field position is one of the more reliable statistics used when examining why one team is successful in the league when another is not. Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler recently signed a new contract worth an estimated four million dollars a year over its entire length. The previous record for highest average salary for a punter was 1.8 million dollars. Is Shane Lechler worth it?
Whether he is worth it or not, there is little dispute that Lechler is one of the best punters in the league, and has been for the majority of his career. Another Raiders punter that has made the news lately is former great Ray Guy. Guy was one of the more successful punters over the length of his career and had a well earned reputation as one of the harder punters to block and one of the best punters at pinning the opponent inside their own ten yard line. There is a lot of debate now regarding whether or not Guy belongs in the Hall of Fame. So far he has come closer in Hall of Fame voting than any other punter in history, yet he is still on the outside looking in. Guy played fourteen season in the NFL, all of them with the Raiders, and made the Pro Bowl seven times. He was also the league leader in yards per punt on three occasions (1974, 1975 and 1977), and finished second or third in that category on four other occasions.
To this point, Shane Lechler has played in the league for nine seasons, also all with the Raiders. He has made the Pro Bowl on four different occasions and lead the league in punting yards twice, including once during his rookie season. In his nine seasons he has been the league leader in yards per punt four times (2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007). In fact, in only two of Lechler’s nine seasons has he finished any where other than first or second in the yearly yards per punt category. His 49.1 yard average in 2007 is the third highest average by a punter in the history of the NFL. Lechler also has the highest yards per punt average of any active player, but even more impressive is that he has the highest yards per punt average for a career than any punter in NFL history.
So if the Raiders feel that Lechler is the best punter in the league, offering him more than the highest punter has gotten in the past is valid. Beyond that, if they would like to pay a premium because of his loyalty or longevity with the team, that is hard to argue against as well. Four million dollars seems like a lot for a punter, but when you are paying for the best player at his position and the ability to keep a long term player on his current team, plus possibly rewarding him for his past performance when he wasn’t in the top pay range, its hard to argue too hard against going over top dollar.