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The 5 O'Clock Club: a primer on Reserve/Futures Contracts

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

NFL: JUN 14 Washington Redskins Mini-Camp Photo By: Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Take note of the handy front-page link to the archives that’s been added:

Thirteen new Redskins

Just hours after the regular season ended, the Redskins announced that they had signed 11 players to reserve/futures contracts. On 2 January, they added a young quarterback to the mix. Since then, another player was added, bringing the total to 13 players.

  • OL Alex Balducci
  • DL Tavaris Barnes
  • TE Chris Bazile
  • RB Kenny Hilliard
  • OL Cameron Jefferson
  • OL John Kling
  • LB Alex McCalister
  • LB Cassanova McKinzy
  • DL Ondre Pipkins
  • DB James Sample
  • QB Stephen Morris
  • DL Montori Hughes

Eight of those players were on the Redskins practice squad at the end of the season. In fact, the only Redskins Practice Squad player who didn’t sign a future contract with the Redskins on Monday was Keenan Reynolds, the former Navy quarterback-turned-receiver. I’m not sure what happened with Reynolds; he may have signed with another team, or maybe it’s time for him to fulfill his military service commitment; I have no idea.

To be honest, I’ve never really understood what Future contracts were all about, so I did a little homework to find out.

Here’s your primer on reserve/futures contracts

NFL teams use futures contracts to claim the rights to players they think will be able to make some contribution in the upcoming season.

Just after Sunday’s games ended, clubs — including the Redskins — started signing futures contracts like crazy.

What's a Reserve/Futures Contract?

It's exactly the same as a regular active-roster contract, with the regular rules for minimum veteran salaries, cap charges, signing bonuses, etc.

The only difference is that it doesn't take effect until the start of the next League Year (this year, that's March 14 at 4 p.m, per NFL.com).

Teams can sign players to future contracts as soon as the previous regular season is over, but the contract won't count against the salary cap or 53-man limit. Instead, it'll count against the salary cap and 90-man camp limit of the following season.

In the meantime, the player goes on the reserve/futures list and can't be signed by any other team.

Who's eligible for a Reserve/Futures Contract?

Any player who wasn't on an active roster at the end of the outgoing regular season can be signed to a futures contract, meaning that if a player was an unrestricted free agent or on any team's practice squad after Week 17 then they are eligible.

For the most part, futures contracts are used on players who weren't quite good enough to justify an active roster spot this season, but who teams think just might be worth an active roster spot next season. In many cases, this means teams are locking up players currently on their own practice squad or poaching them from the practice squad of other teams.

The goal is to identify talented young guys on the cusp of breaking out. Traditionally, like most NFL teams, the Redskins have not had any great success in using futures contracts to lock up future roster successes; however Mack Brown was signed to a futures contract last year, and another name that might be recognizable is Lynden Trail.

Since practice squad players can be poached by any team willing to sign them to an active contract, a future deal signed now ensures they'll be with the team once OTAs and training camp roll around— providing peace of mind for front offices that would rather be concentrating on keeping top talent and wooing key veterans at the start of free agency, not scrapping over players who may not make the team.

There's no limit to how many futures contracts a team can sign, as long as the team will be under the 90-man roster cap at the beginning of the league year. Obviously, this means that many of these players will be cut to make room for UFAs or newly drafted players ahead of training camp, since they represent — almost by definition — the bottom of the roster.

Remember, these are guys who couldn’t get on a team at the end of a season when many roster spots have been made available due to injuries to players.

What are Reserve/Futures Contracts worth?

Typically, futures contracts are minimum-salary deals with little or no signing bonus. Most players signed to futures contracts will be fighting for a spot in camp, if they even make it that far; teams aren't going to invest much into players who may well be cut the following autumn (or sooner).

Just as with any other free agent, teams can sign futures contracts above the veteran minimum—but rarely (if ever) do. These guys are very much the fringe of NFL rosters.

A story with a loose connection to the Redskins

In 2011, the NFL Players Association filed a collusion suit against the NFL, alleging that teams were colluding to keep salaries down. One of their key pieces of evidence, Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann wrote, was a quote from Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

Lewis and the Bengals lost a practice-squad receiver, Dezmon Briscoe, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the Bucs offered him — not a spot on the active roster — but a raise from the usual $88,400 to a very impressive $310,000 per season.

This upset Marvin.

"When you overpay a guy on the practice squad, you create a problem in the system for teams," Lewis said. "That's not the great precedent for teams to set as we try to keep the NFL doing the things we're trying to do as a league. It's still a league of 32 teams and things are put together a certain way."

That's all but admitting collusion—but due to the players agreeing to settle all past issues as part of the latest collective bargaining agreement, a federal judge denied the NFLPA's claim.

Paying over the market

Long-term Redskins fans will probably remember the Bengal-turned-Buccaneer, Dez Briscoe, as a 6’ 2”, 210 pound receiver who likely would have competed for the Mason-Brennan award when he came to the Redskins in 2012. He spent two years in the Redskins training camp tantalizing fans with his measurables before going to the Cowboys training camp in 2014 for his last shot at getting on an NFL roster. Briscoe never did prove that he was worth the extra $200k that Tampa Bay paid him.

This concept of paying above market rates impacted the Redskins this season when the Eagles lured Nate Sudfeld from Washington’s practice squad to Philly’s practice squad by offering him the $550,000 salary he would have gotten had he been signed to the 53-man roster. In that case, the investment did pay off, since Sudfeld was ready to take over the backup role when Carson Wentz tore his ACL late in the season.

For a very recent example of a "futures contract player" who has had some impact on the Redskin roster, we can look to last week's Snaps & Stats report from James Dorsett:

A.J. Francis- Francis was signed to a futures deal almost a year ago to the day and he actually played a significant amount this season, including the career-high 44 defensive snaps that he was in on against the Giants in Week 17 (56% snap share). In fact, his snap total was 16 higher than his 2015 and 2016 season-long totals combined (44 to 28). Francis doubled his games played total this season as well (6 to 3).

The former Maryland Terrapin also set new career marks in solo (2), assisted (4) and total tackles (6) recorded in a game. He had only made 12 tackles in the pros coming into the game. Francis hurried Manning once, which gave him his fourth pressure of the year (3 hurries and 1 hit).

Still, it’s uncommon to pay more than the absolute minimum to players on a future contract, and equally uncommon for these players to ever have a meaningful NFL career.

Poll

Which of these players is most likely to be on the Redskins roster at some point in the 2018 season?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    OL Alex Balducci
    (16 votes)
  • 1%
    DL Tavaris Barnes
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    TE Chris Bazile
    (10 votes)
  • 17%
    RB Kenny Hilliard
    (55 votes)
  • 2%
    OL Cameron Jefferson
    (8 votes)
  • 18%
    OL John Kling
    (60 votes)
  • 5%
    LB Alex McCalister
    (19 votes)
  • 6%
    LB Cassanova McKinzy
    (21 votes)
  • 28%
    DL Ondre Pipkins
    (93 votes)
  • 4%
    DB James Sample
    (14 votes)
  • 6%
    S Orion Stewart
    (21 votes)
322 votes total Vote Now