Ex-Jaguars punter Hanson signs with Pats

Having apparently failed in their attempt to get younger at the punter position in 2007, the New England Patriots will now try to get better.

The Patriots on Thursday signed veteran free agent Chris Hanson, a former Pro Bowl punter who was released by the New Orleans Saints earlier this week, and waived rookie Danny Baugher.

The move continues a busy offseason for New England at the punter spot, but figures to solidify a key position for the Patriots, as field position is a key factor for the team's game-planning.

New England lost three-time Pro Bowl punter Todd Sauerbrun to the Denver Broncos through free agency this past spring when an arbitrator ruled that a right-of-first-refusal clause in his contract with the Patriots was invalid. The Pats released 11-year veteran Josh Miller on Aug. 16 and then cut first-year player Tom Malone last week.

That left Baugher, who played in NFL Europa this spring but has never played in a regular-season game, as the lone punter in camp. Baugher, who spent time on the New England practice squad in 2006, punted nine times in preseason for a 44.8-yard gross average and a net average of 39 yards.

There is still a chance that the Pats could sign Baugher to the practice squad, and they could also keep looking for another veteran. But Hanson is a proven performer, despite having slumped some the past couple years, and now has to be the favorite to claim the starting job.

Hanson, 30, was released by Jacksonville early in the spring, as he became expendable there when the Jaguars chose Maryland punter Adam Podlesh in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.

Two days after his release, Hanson signed a one-year, $635,000 contract with the Saints. He competed in training camp with second-year veteran Steve Weatherford, but could not unseat the Saints' incumbent punter. Hanson punted five times in preseason for a gross average of 40.6 yards and a net average of 39.2 yards. On 10 punters, Weatherford averaged 48.5 yards gross and 42.7 yards net.

Hanson's consistency has suffered in recent years, largely because of minor but persistent leg injuries, and he is coming off a 2006 season in which he registered a career-low gross average of 40.6 yards. His net average, 33.4 yards, was Hanson's worst since 2002.

A former Marshall standout who joined the Jaguars as a free agent in 2001, Hanson was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2002, but has struggled ever since. In 2003, he missed all but five games of the season after a locker room accident in which he gashed his leg with an axe. Coach Jack Del Rio, admonishing his team to keep "chopping wood," had put the axe and a tree trunk in the locker room.

In six seasons, Hanson has punted 428 times and averaged 42.9 yards gross and 35.9 yards net. He has never had a punt blocked. Hanson has 136 kicks inside the opponents' 20-yard line and just 50 touchbacks.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.