Lions punter Harris signs five-year, $8.5 million extension

The Detroit Lions have signed punter Nick Harris, whose average has improved in every season he has been with the team, to a five-year contract extension through the 2012 season.

The deal is worth $8.55 million and includes a signing bonus of $2.05 million. The base salaries are $950,000 (2008), $1.2 million (2009), $1.3 million (2010), $1.4 million (2011), and $1.65 million (2012). Harris will earn a base salary of $600,000 for this season.

Harris, 29, has teamed with 16-year veteran kicker Jason Hanson to provide the Lions one of the NFL's top kicking tandems. In addition to his punting duties, Harris is also Hanson's holder for field goals and extra points.

Signed by the Lions in 2004 as a replacement for longtime punter John Jett, Harris has seen both his gross average and net average increase in each of his three seasons. While possessing a strong leg, the former California standout is also an excellent directional and hang-time punter.

For his career, Harris has averaged 41.5 yards (gross) and 36.1 yards (net) on 485 punts. He has 133 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line and 36 touchbacks. Opponents have averaged 9 yards per return against him.

Originally selected by Denver in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Harris was released by the Broncos as a rookie, and signed with Cincinnati. He spent three seasons, 2001-2003, with the Bengals before being released.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.