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, NFL clubs — including Washington — 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 16 at 4 p.m).
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 18 then he is 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, Washington has not had any great success in using futures contracts to lock up future roster successes; however RB Jonathan Williams, CB Torry McTyer and defensive lineman Daniel Wise, who each played a part in the 2021 season, were signed to futures contracts last year.
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 regular roster 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.
That said, all of these guys are probably excited to have a contract in hand and to have the potential opportunity to make an impression and extend their pro football careers.
Let’s see who they are.
G Deion “Shaq” Calhoun
Shaq Calhoun has some real NFL experience; as an undrafted free agent in 2019, he started seven games for the Miami Dolphins, playing 471 snaps as a rookie. He wasn’t great, typically earning grades of between 50 and 64 from PFF.
Prior to his NFL career, Shaq Calhoun spent five years at Mississippi State, red-shirting in 2014, then working as a reserve right guard in 2015. He moved into the starting lineup in 2016 before an injury shorted his season. He continued as the starting right guard in 2017, then again in 2018, starting all 13 games each season. He was named second-team All-SEC as a senior. He only allowed three sacks during his time at Mississippi State.
The 25-year-old guard is 6’3” and 310 pounds. Between September 2020 and the end of the ‘21 season earlier this month, Calhoun was under contract to 4 teams (Cincinnati, Arizona, Denver, Washington), moving on and off of practice squads, primarily, but playing 16 offensive snaps in 2020 and another 4 in 2021.
G Nolan Laufenberg
Washington signed Laufenberg to the practice squad in September, so he’s a name that might ring in a bell. He played college football for Air Force and was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2021. In order to play with Denver, he had to get the United States Secretary of Defense’s approval to delay his military service five years.
Laufenberg was excited to be signed by the Broncos last year since he was a Broncos fan growing up in Colorado, but Denver waived him at the end of training camp and did not re-sign him to the practice squad.
The 22-year-old, 6’3”, 312 pound rookie was signed to the Football Team’s practice squad at the end of September, and stayed with the team to the end of the season; he was then signed to a future contract for the 2022 season, which seems to indicate that the coaching staff has a genuine interest in him.
The Washington Post published a detailed article about Laufenberg at the end of October. Here’s the most interesting nugget I saw in that article:
[W]hen football does end for him, Laufenberg has a second career waiting — in the U.S. Space Force, a military branch established in 2019 when President Donald Trump signed a $738 billion defense spending bill. In fact, Laufenberg was set to become an acquisitions officer in the Space Force, based in California, before the Broncos called.
Laufenberg, who is in the Independent Ready Reserve for the Air Force, was granted a five-year deferment of his service, at which point he can either leave football and fulfill his required active duty or pay back his tuition at the academy (tuition for cadets is taxpayer funded). Depending on when he begins his required service, Laufenberg still could go into the Space Force, or he could be asked to fulfill whatever position is most needed in the Air Force at the time if he returns in later years.
But the Air Force regularly keeps tabs on his status, he says, and during his free agency in September, discussions had begun about starting his service if a team didn’t sign him in the following months.
When Washington did, he quickly shifted his mind-set to navigating a new city, a new team and a new playbook.
G Zack Bailey
At 6’5” and 299 pounds, Zack Bailey is as tall as Brandon Scherff, but not quite as massive as Scherff’s 315 pounds. After entering the NFL in 2019 as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bailey spent 8 weeks on the Bucs’ practice squad in 2020 before being waived. He finished the 2020 season on the Vikings practice squad, and then spent the first month of the ‘21 season there as well.
Bailey had a cup of coffee with the Colts before signing on to Washington’s practice squad in Week 8. He didn’t appear in a game and was victim of the COVID-19 outbreak that swept the locker room in the final month, but the WFT coaches like him well enough to have signed him to a future contract.
In college, Bailey played for the South Carolina Gamecocks, where he played left guard and right tackle.
C/G Beau Benzschawel
Benzschawel is a big boy at 6’6” and 300 pounds.
Beau was a two-time All-American and two-time first team All-Big 10 at Wisconsin, so he has some talent. In 2018, when he was a junior, the Badgers rushed for 273.4 yards per game, while Jonathan Taylor led the country with 2,194 rushing yards behind the Benzschawel, center Tyler Biadasz, right tackle David Edwards, left guard Michael Deiter and left tackle Jon Dietzen.
He wasn’t always an offensive lineman; in high school, Benzshawel played tight end and defensive end. He was an all-conference selection in his sophomore and junior seasons, and was also a two-time team MVP with the Grafton High School Blackhawks, so he’s got some athleticism.
Benzshawel entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2019, and has been part of three NFL rosters: Detroit, Houston, and Washington. As a rookie with the Lions, Benzschawel was moved to center, so if Washington needed someone to play either center or guard, Benzschawel could be of use.
With his high school experience, it seems like he might also be able to catch a pass or jump in on defense in a pinch.
The 26 year old has been active for 3 NFL games and has played a total of 13 special teams snaps in his NFL career.
FB Alex Armah
Alex Armah has been around the NFL for a while, having entered as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. The 28-year-old’s experience, though is weighted more towards special teams. In 2017, as a Panther, he played 161 Special Teams snaps and 53 offensive snaps. In 2018, it was 241:115. In 2019, 268:136. In 2020, 199:149.
Armah left the Panthers in 2021, playing 9 games with the Saints and 2 games with the Football Team, where he got 28 special teams snaps and 3 snaps in the offensive backfield.
When he was signed by the Football Team, Coach Ron Rivera indicated that Armah’s positional flexibility as a fullback/tight end/H-back combined with his special teams play made him an attractive option for the Football Team in the latter part of the season when tight end depth was limited.
Armah has been active for 68 NFL games over his 5-year career, and, according to Over the Cap, has earned over $2.5m as a professional football player. I think he needs to be seriously considered as a contender to make the 2022 roster for his special teams ability and positional flexibility on offense.
RB Reggie Bonnafon
Bonnafon is a 6’0”, 200 pound running back who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Carolina Panthers in 2018. He has spent his entire 4-year NFL career with the Panthers, bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.
Bonnafon didn’t get any NFL snaps as a rookie, but has had 105 offensive snaps over the past three seasons, with most of those (68) coming in 2019. He also has 294 special teams snaps in those 3 years, with the vast majority (240) in 2019 (he played coverage and return on both kickoffs and punts).
In his 3-year career, Bonnafon has 39 total touches on offense and 276 scrimmage yards with 2 touchdowns. Most of the yards were compiled in the ‘19 season, but he scored once in 2020. Although it’s on a limited sample, he has averaged 6.5 yards per carry over his career, such as it is, and has generated 10 first downs on his 39 touches.
It’s hard to see Bonnafon breaking into the 53-man roster to start the season, but he’s the kind of player who could see limited duty in December or January if there are a couple of key injuries at the RB position.
DT Tyler Clark
Clark was signed by the Bengals as a UDFA in 2020 and didn’t it past preseason cuts. Like many players signed to a reserve/future contract, the former Georgia Bulldog is still awaiting his first game action in the NFL.
In his 4 years at Georgia, Clark produced 119 total tackles and 6.5 sacks. In 2 NFL seasons, Clark has been on four NFL rosters, but has never made it beyond the practice squad. He spent 4 weeks with the Washington Football Team in December and January before signing a futures contract.
WR Antonio Gandy-Golden
This will be AGG’s third stint with Washington since the start of the 2021 preseason.
The 2020 fourth-rounder was cut at the roster deadline, then re-signed to the practice squad nearly a week later. He appeared five games (20 snaps) while failing to record a catch before he got released again prior to Week 17. In fact, in his two-year career, he has been active for just ten games and has played only 144 offensive snaps; in that time, Gandy-Golden has just one reception for 3 yards on 7 targets.
There was a lot of enthusiasm for AGG when he was drafted in 2020; fans were excited about the addition of a tall, big-bodied receiver (6’4”, 223 pounds) who showed some athletic traits. But when 2nd year receiver Kelvin Harmon injured his knee to end his 2020 season, the rookie couldn’t manage to step up. He also looked uninspiring in the 2021 preseason and spent the regular season at the periphery of the roster, on and off of the practice squad.
There’s a feeling that the clock has been ticking on AGG for some time. If it hadn’t been Ron Rivera’s group that drafted him, he might have been gone before now. I’m not sure how much more patience the front office will exercise to see if their draft pick ever comes good.
WR Kelvin Harmon
Harmon, a 6’2”, 215 pound wide receiver, was drafted in the 6th round of the 2019 draft, and at the time, there were high hopes that he and Terry McLaurin would form a receiving duo that would be the foundation of a passing game renaissance for the Redskins.
In the latter half of Harmon’s rookie season, it appeared as if it was all going to work out that way. After catching just 8 passes for 75 yards in the first 9 games of the season, Harmon exploded, with 22 catches for 290 yards in the final 7 games.
He ended his rookie year with 30 receptions for 365 yards as a sixth-round pick. Especially given how strongly he closed out the season, this looked like a promising start to his pro career.
That, unfortunately, has been the peak thus far. Harmon missed all of his sophomore season with a knee injury and his career has been stalled ever since.
With that 2019 half-season in his resume, it’s been a bit puzzling that Harmon hasn’t been able to find his way back onto the active roster since returning from his knee injury. Harmon had a strong relationship with Dwayne Haskins, whom he had known since high school, but any thought that his inability to get playing time was due to some bias from the Ron Rivera coaching staff would have been laid to rest when Harmon was waived from the practice squad during the 2021 training camp but was not signed by any other team. He re-joined Washington’s practice squad in Week 3 of the season, but was never elevated or signed to the regular roster by Washington or any other team.
Like AGG, there’s a sense that the clock is ticking fast for Harmon’s NFL career, but, unlike his younger teammate, Harmon has some regular season production to point to. It will be interesting to see if the 25-year-old can manage to reignite his career in DC.
WR Marken Michel
While Marken Michel is a former Carolina Panther, he has never played for Ron Rivera. Michel, a 5’11”, 191 pound receiver, entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Vikings in 2016, but when he didn’t make the team’s roster, he headed to Canada, where he played for two seasons (2017-18).
He was nominated as the CFL West Division Rookie of the Year in 2017 after accumulating 780 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns in just 13 games. The following season (2018) Michel played in 11 regular season games for the Stampeders, catching 31 passes for the 435 yards with 5 touchdowns. In October 2018, Michel’s CFL career came to an end when he was placed on injured reserve with a broken scapula.
Michel returned to the NFL by way of Philadelphia, signing with the Eagles, and spending some time on their practice squad.
He joined the Panthers the year after Rivera was fired by Carolina. He appeared in two games in 2020 (2 offensive snaps; 15 snaps on special teams) before moving on again. He made a very brief stop back in Philly in August before signing with Washington, where Michel spent the entire 2021 season on the WFT practice squad.
I find this signing to be quite interesting. 28-year-old Marken Michel has done nothing in the NFL, but in 2 seasons with the Calgary Stampeders he grabbed 72 receptions for 1,215 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging 16.9 yards per reception. He also rushed 4 times, at an average of 11.8 yards per carry. I wonder if he can find a way to break into the Washington roster, though, if he couldn’t do so in 2021 when there were so many issues and so many needs, I don’t know how he will make it happen in 2022.