By MIKE CRANSTON
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – The Carolina Panthers signed Jason Baker to a five-year, $8.5 million extension Monday that makes him one of the NFL’s highest-paid punters.
Baker, who would have become an unrestricted free agent after next season, received a $2.2 million signing bonus in the deal that will keep him with the team through the 2012 season.
The 29-year-old Baker, who was waived six times by four teams early in his career, set team records for net average the past two seasons, 38.9 yards in 2005 and 39 last season. Baker had a 45.74-yard gross average last season in 98 punts, the second most in team history.
“He’s a very steady player and he’s our kind of person,” general manager Marty Hurney said.
Baker, who also holds for kicker John Kasay and shares kickoff duties, has provided the Panthers stability at the position following Todd Sauerbrun, who had off the field problems and clashed with management over his weight and his contract.
Baker was acquired from Denver in 2005 in exchange for Sauerbrun and a seventh-round draft choice. Sauerbrun was later suspended four games for using the banned substance ephedra.
“I remember telling Marty (Hurney) a couple of years ago that if you take Jason in this deal, you’ll never look back,” Baker’s agent Frank Murtha said. “He’s put together some pretty impressive numbers.”
Hurney said negotiations will begin soon with the team’s draft picks. Only fifth round choice Dante Rosario is signed.