Ask BTB rolls on. Today, we have a sort of technical question about one of those terms you see tossed around that many people are not entirely clear on. This is one of the great things about this format for posts, because a lot of us run across terms dealing with the NFL and especially CBA and labor issues that we are not sure about. If you have questions about stuff like that, you are probably doing a lot of people a favor since many likely have the same questions, but don't want to ask them.
Remember, if you have questions, or any topics you want to see discussed by one or more of the front page writers, you can contact KD Drummond, Blogging The Boys' Master of all Social Media:
Now, to the topic at hand:
A futures contract is a way for an NFL team to lock up a player they are interested in. It is used more for players that the team sees some potential in. I found a good, concise definition at SteelersAddicts.com. Here is the key section:
Basically, when a player is signed to "reserve/futures" contracts means they are being signed for the upcoming season even though that season does not officially begin until the official start of the league's new year as outlined by the NFL. Only players who were not on any NFL team's active roster when the previous season ended are eligible for these types of contracts. If they were under contract, then they would remain so until the league's new year starts. Players who were on practice squads at the end of the season are eligible to sign with any team.
Although the players signed this way are used to fill out the 90-man roster for camp, the players signed at this time of the year generally are ones the team has at least some hope of finding a spot for, either on the final roster or the practice squad. A player signed from the last year's practice squad is someone the team wants to continue developing, most likely because they saw something during the previous season. Other players signed from outside the organization, like the two most recent Cowboys signings, like DT Nick Haden and OG Charlie Bryant, are players that the team thinks may be able to help. These two are a very good example, since they are potential help at a couple of positions of need. A true camp body is someone signed off the street just to put enough players on the field for practice, but futures contracts indicate some hope of more from the individuals.
Ideally, the team does not sign true camp bodies. They want everyone in camp to be a legitimate contender for a spot on the team. Of course, that is an ideal scenario, and there are just about always a few guys who start camp that have effectively zero chance of being on the roster or practice squad to start the season, but these usually will be players picked up at the last minute to fill up the current 90 man offseason roster, not people signed to futures contracts. Still, surprises do happen, and in some rare instances a guy nobody expects will prove himself worthy of a spot, sort of like Cole Beasley did. But even players that get cut can have some future value. With the prevalence of injuries, there are always going to be openings during the season, and it is often better to bring back someone who just missed making the roster or PS and is both familiar with the system and a known quantity to the coaches.
Futures contracts are a sort of low risk bet that a given player may be of use down the road. They help the team plan for the offseason, stake out some players that they might worry about getting picked up by other teams, and give a measure of control over who you will have to work with when the new NFL year starts in March.