Raiders sign Lechler, is Asomugha next?

The Raiders answered one of their biggest free agent questions by signing punter Shane Lechler to a four-year contract on Wednesday. Next up? Placing the franchise tag on Nnamdi Asomugha, a move that will happen within the next 24 hours if Oakland can't get a long-term deal done with their Pro Bowl cornerback.

Lechler, who would have hit the market as an unrestricted free agent on Feb. 27, signed a four-year deal the Raiders announced was "the greatest ever awarded to a punter in the history of the National Football League."

That solved one of the issues facing owner Al Davis. It was widely speculated that the Raiders had to choose between franchising Asomugha or Lechler, with Asomugha being the odds-on favorite while Lechler was seen as a player Oakland would let hit the market.

Instead, the Raiders locked up the NFL's best punter and a four-time Pro Bowler who has been crucial to the team since signing as a fifth-round draft pick in 2000.

"It's a win-win situation," Raiders executive John Herrera said. "That's been the goal from the start. We're happy to get something done and we'll see what's next."

The move isn't all that surprising because the Raiders obviously wanted to retain Lechler while Lechler was open to remaining, even after the team brought in a punter late in the season and signed him to the practice squad as insurance.

It's also a solid step in the right direction for a team that grossly overspent in free agency last year. Lechler's value to the Raiders has been immeasurable and by signing him to a contract that should pay him nearly $3 million a year, Davis also sent a positive message to his players.

He can do the same if the Raiders can reach terms on a long-term agreement with Asomugha. Although there have been reports the two sides are in serious negotiations on a possible long-term contract, no deal had been reached as of 8 p.m. PDT on Wednesday.

If no deal is reached by Thursday, the Raiders will then use the franchise tag on Asomugha for the second straight year, guaranteeing him nearly $12 million.

Other notes:

· Ran into fullback Oren O'Neal at the Warriors-Lakers game Wednesday night. O'Neal looks healthy and says the news is nothing but optimistic on his return.

· Also attending the Lakers game against Golden State were linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard, who sat in the seats usually occupied by Mark Davis, son of Raiders owner Al Davis.

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