Panthers bank on Baker

Panthers bank on Baker

The Carolina Panthers believe Jason Baker is developing into one of the best punters in the league. And last week they rewarded him for it, giving Baker a contract that equaled that of Dallas' Matt McBriar, the highest-paid punter in the NFL.

Actually, depending on how you look at it, Baker's contract is worth more over the first three years of the deal -- an average of $1.85 million per year.

It also includes a $2 million bonus.

With John Kasay handling field goals and extra points, the Panthers have the core of their kicking game intact.

Baker would have become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"Jason is very excited," said agent Frank Murtha said. "We were hoping we could work out something with the Panthers. In the last negotiation they said if he put together another strong year they would re-visit it. They were true to their word."

Give Baker credit for not giving up.

He was waived four times earlier in his career, but found a home in Carolina when the Panthers traded three-time Pro Bowler Todd Sauerbrun to Denver for Baker and a seventh-round round draft pick. Although Sauerbrun was a great player for Carolina, he was a pain in the neck for management off the field, often making bold statements and getting in trouble with the law. He was also involved in the team's steroids scandal and later tested positive in Denver for ephedra and was suspended for four games.

Baker set back-to-back team records for net average the past two seasons -- 38.9 yards in 2005 and 39 yards in 2006. Baker was selected as a first alternate for the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

"He's been a very consistent punter for us," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "He holds for John and helps out on kickoffs, too. The last two years he finished in the top three in the league in gross and net average. We just feel like he's getting better every year. And he's our kind of guy."

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