Going into the offseason, one of the biggest questions facing the Raiders was choosing between free-agents-to-be Shane Lechler and Nnamdi Asomugha.
"We've got a tough problem with Nnamdi and Shane, a tough problem," Raiders owner Al Davis said at the Feb. 4 news conference introducing Tom Cable as head coach. "They're both unsigned, and you have only one franchise designation."
With Lechler having been signed to a four-year contract Wednesday, the Raiders kept their Pro Bowl punter and have the power to retain Asomugha, their Pro Bowl cornerback.
The Raiders can keep Asomugha by giving him the franchise tag today, which is the final day teams can make that designation. If franchised, Asomugha would earn a 20 percent increase over last year's salary — approximately $11.7 million.
He would be able to negotiate with other teams, with the Raiders retaining the right of first refusal or letting him go at a cost most teams find prohibitive — two first-round draft picks.
Davis said the Raiders would be more likely to apply the "exclusive" franchise tag, which means Asomugha couldn't negotiate with other teams and would be due either the $11.7 million figure or the average of the top five salaries for cornerbacks in 2009, whichever is higher.
Asomugha was an "exclusive" franchise player last season.
If the Raiders can work out a long-term deal with Asomugha, they could lower the $11.7 million cap figure considerably.
The cost for franchising Lechler would have been $2.48 million for one season, which the Raiders apparently exceeded by a good margin.
According to the NFL Network, Lechler's deal is worth $12 million over four years, although it is not known how much was paid in the form of a signing bonus. There was no breakdown of salary.
Lechler was unavailable for comment.
Raiders senior executive John Herrera, without getting into specifics other than the length of the deal, called Lechler's contract "the best ever given to a punter in the history of the National Football League." That would seem fair, considering Lechler's career punting average of 46.8 yards is the highest in the history of the NFL. More impressively, Lechler has exceeded 40 yards in net punting in each of the last two seasons, averaging 41.1 in 2007 and 41.2 in 2008.
It was going to take a serious offer to prevent Lechler from looking hard at options in his home state of Texas. Talking with reporters on Nov. 11, Lechler wistfully recalled the division title seasons of 2000-02 and was frustrated with the six-year run of losing since Super Bowl XXXVII.
The Raiders will need to make room under the salary cap to bring aboard Asomugha under a franchise tag. They can clear space by restructuring existing contracts or releasing players. Wide receiver Ronald Curry, according to a source familiar with the situation, has been told his release is imminent.
Contact Jerry McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.