Pro Bowl punter Lechler signs with Texans

HOUSTON — Shane Lechler didn’t miss his chance to finish his NFL career close to home after all.

Lechler signed with the Houston Texans on Saturday, returning to the area where he grew up and close to the school where he and his new coach launched their football careers.

Terms of the contract weren’t disclosed by the team. ESPN reported the deal was for three years and worth a maximum of $5.5 million, with a $1 million signing bonus.

“This team, it’s an exciting football team,” Lechler said about the Texans. “I’m very excited to get back to the postseason and I’m excited for good things to happen here.”

The 36-year-old Lechler grew up in nearby East Bernard, played at Texas A&M and now lives in Richmond. He has played his entire 13-year NFL career with Oakland, though he had a chance to leave as a free agent in 2009.

He considered the Texans and the chance to return home, but opted to take Al Davis’ four-year, $12 million contract to stay with the Raiders.

“That was a decision I had to make,” he said. “It was kind of one of those things where it was a no-brainer. I had to go back to Oakland.”

He wasn’t going to pass up the chance this time. His parents live in Sealy, a pair of grandparents live in Wharton, and his brother lives in Mont Belvieu.

“I’ve got a lot of support here and I think they’re all looking forward to it just as much as I am,” Lechler said.

The Texans, meanwhile, signed their second perennial Pro Bowler in as many days. They introduced safety Ed Reed at a press conference on Friday after he signed a three-year, $15 million deal.

Lechler is the NFL’s career leader in gross average per punt (47.5 yards) and has led the league in gross average in four seasons. He also ranks seventh in career net punting average (38.8 yards).

Last season, veteran Donnie Jones had a solid year for Houston, averaging 47.2 gross yards per punt, tying Lechler for 11th in the league. Lechler had a left knee scope during training camp last season, but says he feels “way better than I did before the surgery.” His goal is to play 20 years in the league.

“I’ve still got a while to go and I feel like I can do it with no problem, barring any injury that comes out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m ready and ready to go until they say, ‘You need to get out of here and stop doing this.’”

Oakland drafted Lechler in the fifth round in 2000. The Raiders were winning consistently when he arrived, reaching the AFC championship in his rookie year and playing in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. The Raiders haven’t made the playoffs since, and Lechler was eager to play for a contending team again.

“All that stuff happened so early in my career that I kind of, I guess you would say, took it for granted,” he said. “I thought this was how it was going to be the whole time and it turned out 10 straight years after that, it wasn’t how it was. It’s been a long time since I got to the end of the year and had something to play for, so I’m ready for it.”

Lechler did his part to help the Raiders, making seven Pro Bowls. He had at least one punt of 50 yards or more in 33 consecutive games from 2003-05, the longest streak by any punter since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. He also owns two of the top four punting average seasons in NFL history — 51.1 yards in 2009 and 50.8 yards in 2011.

The Texans now have two kickers who played at nearby Texas A&M, the alma mater of coach Gary Kubiak. Houston drafted Randy Bullock in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Bullock won the Lou Groza Award honoring the nation’s best kicker in 2011, then sat out the 2012 NFL season after tearing a groin muscle during training camp.

Lechler said Bullock sent him a text message on Friday night, when Lechler agreed to terms of the deal.

“I’m looking forward to working with Randy because he’s a great talent,” Lechler said. “I texted him back, you know, ‘I’m looking forward to working for you. Let’s go be a hero one of these Sundays and go win one for ‘em.’”

Lechler played at Texas A&M from 1996-99, when R.C. Slocum was the Aggies’ coach. Kubiak served as Slocum’s running backs coach at A&M from 1992-93. Lechler still holds the school records for single-season punt average (47.0 yards, in 1997) and career average (44.7 yards).

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