Carolina Panthers

Panther's make Baker highest paid punter in league

CHARLOTTE -- Depending on how you chop up the numbers, the Carolina Panthers made Jason Baker the highest-paid punter in the league Monday.

Baker, 29, signed an extension which will keep him here through 2012. He was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but the Panthers prevented that with a deal worth $8.5 million over the next five seasons.

The pact also included $2 million in guarantees.

The previous big punter contract was the five-year, $8.5 million deal with $2.5 million in guarantees which Dallas gave Mat McBriar in February, but Baker's deal tops that one in terms of yearly average over the next three and four seasons.

The numbers get hazy when you stretch it out, since McBriar goes from a $600,000 base salary this year to $1.7 million in the final year of the deal. When signing core players to extensions, the Panthers have worked to keep the deals as balanced as possible so they're viable from a salary cap standpoint throughout the life of the contract.

"I think when you think of Jason, you think of consistency," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Monday. "He's good in terms of gross, in terms of net, all those things.

"Plus, as a person, he's our kind of player. He's just a very consistent guy."

Over the last two seasons combined, Baker is second among all punters in next average (39.0), third in gross average (44.7) and was fifth in punts inside the 20-yard line.

He also led the league in average yards per return (6.4), though that speaks to his coverage teams' ability as much as his own.

Baker also holds for field goals and can kick off (though John Kasay does most of that). He was the first alternate for the NFC Pro Bowl team last season, behind McBriar.

Baker came to the Panthers in a 2005 trade with Denver, along with a seventh-round pick, in exchange for Todd Sauerbrun. That the pick turned into promising defensive end Stanley McClover makes it all the more lop-sided for the Panthers, who were weary of Sauerbrun's off-field problems and attitude.

Baker has been the anti-Sauerbrun since coming here, keeping a low profile and a clean slate -- which had to go a long way toward their eagerness to do the deal.

He shopped the free agent market after the 2005 season, but came back for a two-year, $1.8 million deal.