Raiders' release of punter Marquette King a perplexing move

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- In perhaps the most shocking move of the Oakland Raiders' busy offseason, the team released popular and productive punter Marquette King, whose social media presence was just as large as his punts were booming.

In announcing the release Friday, the Raiders did not offer a reason, though there had been whispers that perhaps returning coach Jon Gruden's decidedly old-school ways might not have jibed with King's larger-than-life personality, especially for a punter.

But technically, Gruden was not allowed to meet with King to talk about football matters until April 9, so he could not have asked King about his antics, both on (a punter picking up unsportsmanlike penalties?) and off (his posing with Aqib Talib at the 2017 Pro Bowl to reenact Talib's first chain-snatching episode with Michael Crabtree did not sit well in the Raiders' locker room) the field.

Financially speaking, cutting King, who originally signed with Oakland as an undrafted free agent in 2012, saves the Raiders $2.85 million in salary-cap space for 2018. He was due base salaries of $2.9 million, $2.8 million and $2.75 million the next three seasons.

Already the most fit punter in the NFL, King was also coming into his own booting the ball, increasing his hang time to the occasional 4.9 seconds, flipping the field and pinning opponents against their own end zone.

Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked him third among all punters, and he finished third in the NFL in net punting average at 42.7 yards.

And since 2013, when he took over for Shane Lechler in Oakland, King is second in the league in that time frame in total punts (426), eighth in gross average (46.8 yards), eighth in net average (40.8), third in punts inside the 20-yard line (168) and first in punts inside the 10-yard line (65).

The lone punter on the Raiders' roster now is Colby Wadman, who last played at UC Davis in 2016 and was in the Raiders' rookie minicamp last spring.

And as Pro Football Focus notes, of the 32 punters to play at least 15 games last season, Brad Wing is the only one not retired and not signed. He earned PFF's worst overall grade for punters in 2017, when he averaged 44.1 yards per punt for the New York Giants.

The draft?

The Raiders do have 11 picks, including two fifth-rounders and four in the sixth round. Texas' Michael Dickson is generally seen as the top-rated punter, followed by Alabama's JK Scott and Bowling Green's Joe Davidson.

King, who did not reply to messages for comment Friday, was leading in fan voting for Pro Bowl punter early in the process last December but was not driven by the potential of such an accolade.

"I appreciate the love, but I'm just, I don't think about football like that," King told ESPN at the time. "If it happens, it happens. Because I remember when I used to want it so bad, I didn't get it.

"It's cool that I got love from so many people, though."

There also seemed to be a love-hate relationship with fans, who were polarized by his wild post-punt celebrations, like riding an invisible horse against the Broncos, doing the Ray Lewis squirrel dance in Baltimore, flexing for buff NFL official Ed Hochuli.

But few cared for the time he picked up a ref's flag and tossed it to the ground in disapproval, earning a 15-yard penalty. Even if Hall of Famer Ray Guy took him under his wing.

"Marquette's going to be a very dominating punter as he gets more accustomed to the pro life and all that," Guy said in 2014.

"Like I told Marquette, I said, 'Marquette, be yourself, man. You know what you can do. Go do it. You don't have to prove yourself to anybody.' When you start pressing, you start having doubt in your mind, and when you start having doubt in your mind, you might as well go sit on the bench."

King often said he was not driven by "love" of the game, or even by love from fans.

"But I do like to spread love," he said. "I like to spread the love. I like to keep positive vibes in the atmosphere. And I just like to encourage other people to keep positive vibes."

Even if fans were fickle.

"Because people change on you, people can change on you at any time," he said. "When you're doing good, people love you. When you're doing bad, people hate you."