The first question that must be asked is what does a "futures contract" entail. Fortunately our own Tom Ryle penned an article explaining just that. From his response to an "Ask BTB" question from community member Tallgrass Prairie we have this explanation.
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.
In concluding his explanation of reserve/ futures contracts, Tom summed up that these deals 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.
Now lets take a quick look at the 2013 futures signees themselves.
Wide Receiver Tim Benford
The UDFA wide receiver out of Tennessee Tech spent the season on the Cowboys practice squad. According to a post authored by rabblerousr, Benford has some similarities to a wide receiver who made a decent mark in the league. From Rabble's post we have this:
Tennessee Tech Coach Watson Brown, who coached Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White when both were at UAB, sees some similarities between the two players' games. Benford is a smooth athlete who runs good routes. He's more quick than fast (although he does have some wheels; he notched a 4.48 forty at his pro day), using sharp footwork to separate out of breaks. He is adept at finding soft spots in zone coverage. And once he's made the catch, Benford can do some damage. At 5'11", 205, he's built like a running back, and can use his bulk to break tackles and "rack some YAC."
To top it all off, he's an RKG (Are you surprised?): scouting reports characterize him as a "humble player with a good head on his shoulders"; indeed, Benford is an honor roll student and has earned a reputation as an extremely hard worker.
Guard Ray Dominguez
During training camp, Rabble and I spent an evening tweeting back and forth about the Cowboys prospects along the offensive line, and he kept remarking on the effort that Dominguez was giving on the field, and how impressed he was with what they young guard was able to do. The former Arkansas Razorback was signed away from the Carolina Panthers practice squad as a futures guy after the 2012 season and became a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys during training camp. He had previously been on the Green Bay Packers practice squad and 53-man roster, although like the departed David Arkin he saw no gameday activity. At Arkansas he was a four-year letterman for the Razorbacks. He appeared in 41 games with 33 starts, including a streak of 18 straight starts to end his college career. Dominguez started all 13 contests at LT as a senior in 2011 for an Arkansas offense that broke 24 single-game or single-season school records.
Wide Receiver Lance Lewis
Lewis, a product of the same East Carolina Pirates program that produced Dallas Cowboys WR and kick returner Dwayne Harris, started his career as a Washington Redskin. He spent the 2012 season as a member of the Skins practice squad and he faced tough competition for a slot on that team's 53-man roster during the 2013 training camp. He spent most of 2013 on the Washington practice squad before being promoted to the gameday roster as a special teams guy in November. He was released before Christmas when Washington claimed center JD Walton. Before the season began our sister site Hogs Haven gave us a quick look at what Lance Lewis has to offer.
Lewis has good size to be an NFL wide receiver and he has shown flashes during the Redskins OTA’s. There is a lot of competition for the wide receiver position this season, so Lewis would have to improve a great deal in order to make the roster. He may end up back on the practice squad this season if he is eligible or he could possibly make the roster as the last receiver. However, the signings of Donte Stallworth and Devery Henderson may cast some doubt on that prediction.
During his career at ECU, Lewis caught 149 passes for 1716 yards and 22 scores. At 6' 2" and 207 pounds he has the size that the Cowboys like in an outside receiver and he runs a 4.5 40 yard time, but one knock on him was that he plays slower than his time and he does not show any burst.
Defensive End Caesar Rayford
Back at the start of the season, Dallas traded an undisclosed draft pick to the Indianapolis Colts to acquire Caesar Rayford, who had impressed as a pass rusher during training camp. As one of my final fanposts I took a look at his non-typical route to the NFL, and speculated that his ability as a dedicated pass rusher and special teams guy would prove intriguing for the Cowboys. Bouncing between the practice squad and the 53-man roster, Rayford saw limited action for Dallas in 2013, appearing in seven games and playing 147 snaps. During that time he recorded six tackles and one QB pressure.
Linebacker Jonathan Stewart
An UDFA out of Texas A&M, Stewart originally signed with the St. Louis Rams before moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns as a practice squad member. When he was released at the beginning of December, the Cowboys signed him as a member of their practice squad due to the team's linebacker corps being decimated by injuries. The National Football Post had this to say about Stewart prior to the 2013 NFL Draft:
STRENGTHS - Stewart is well-built with the natural bulk and strength needed to address and defeat blockers inside. He flashes the foot quickness and speed to make plays outside the box in pursuit. He can be physical with receivers running through his area and knock them off line with passing jabs.
WEAKNESSES - Stewart displays poor instincts as he is consistently a beat late moving to the ball. He does not read his keys well and takes false steps that leave him out of position vs. cutbacks. On runs at him he tends to wait for the play to come to him which allows blockers to consistently get on top of him. He is not a physical player, as he tends to leave his feet and whiff on arm tackles and does not attack downhill.
Offensive Tackle John Wetzel
Originally signed by the Oakland Raiders as a UDFA in 2013, Wetzel is a product of the same Boston College program that produced former Cowboy Marc Columbo. Our SBN colleague RDreamer of Silver And Black Pride did a nice review of Wetzel when he joined their squad.
Wetzel is a mammoth of a man, standing 6'7" and weighing a solid 315 pounds. He uses his size and strength well, as he is able to get leverage on defensive linemen easily and keep them at bay in pass protection or "road-grader" in run blocking. He is very good at redirecting defenders out of rushing lanes.
He was able to get by in college but could have trouble with defensive ends in the NFL. His best shot in the pros is probably to move inside to the guard position, where he can use his strength against defensive tackles rather than dealing with edge rushers.
Like Tom concluded in his look at the reserve/futures contracts, Dallas now has six guys who are a low risk investments at positions where they see a need to secure some depth. Three of these are guys who may be able to add something in the trenches, two are receivers who might be called on in a pinch, and the last is potential depth to develop at linebacker. While there are not likely any potential superstars in this mix, perhaps one or two can turn out to be a guy who adds a little something to the roster, if only by his impact on special teams. If just one adds a little impact during the 2014 season, the Cowboys will have reaped a tangible return on their investment.
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