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NFL free agency 2018: What are futures contracts?

The NFL has some complicated rules that the average fan may not know about. Futures contracts are one of those things and we’re here to offer a refresher on how they work.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Recently, DeShawn Williams signed a futures contract with the Broncos, and it caused some confusion with fans over what exactly futures contracts really are. Williams was on the Bengals’ practice squad during the 2017 NFL season, and now is joining the Broncos’ 90-man offseason roster.

Not knowing what futures contracts are is understandable since they are such an arbitrary part of the end of the regular season. Still, they are a relatively easy concept once you look into them. Here is your explanation.

What are futures contracts?

Futures contracts are teams claiming the rights to players for the following season. They act just like normal contracts, but they do not count against the team until the following season officially begins.

This means if a team signed futures contracts at the end of the 2017 regular season, then those contracts wouldn’t count against the 2017 cap or the active 53-man roster. Instead they count against the 2018 cap and 90-man roster.

These contracts can only be offered at the end of the Regular season, and even teams in the playoffs are required to offer futures contracts at this time as well.

Who is eligible?

Anyone who wasn’t on a roster at the end of Week 17 is eligible for this type of contract. That means unrestricted free agents who weren’t signed during the season, but more commonly, practice squad players. That is where these contracts really come into play. They are mostly teams re-signing their practice squad players or even poaching other team’s practice squad guys.

Now, it is more common that a team will try and steal another team’s practice squad player with a futures contract rather than during the season. During the season, if a team signs a practice squad player, they would have to add that player to the 53-man active roster. However, with futures contracts, that player is only added to the 90-man roster for next year’s offseason.

There isn’t a limit to how many futures contracts a team can have players sign to, but it is rare players outside of these fringe roster players sign futures contracts.

How much are futures contracts worth?

Typically, they are only worth the league minimum. Technically, they can be worth whatever a team is willing to offer as long as it won’t put them over next season’s cap.

It’s pretty much like how teams can offer whatever they want to free agents during free agency. However, since they are usually only used on fringe roster players, you won’t see many teams if any go above the minimum amount.

This is a bit of a sore subject to the NFLPA, however, who has claimed this is collusion by NFL teams to keep salaries low. They actually filed a collusion suit in 2011, and Marvin Lewis was actually one of the main reasons this arose.

Lewis was frustrated after the Buccaneers essentially poached Dezmon Briscoe after clearing waivers. The Bucs offered him the rookie minimum of $310,000 rather than the practice squad contract of $5,200 a week. Bidding for a practice squad player was unheard of in the NFL, and Lewis reacted poorly to the move.

“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.”

It certainly sounds like collusion. However, the suit was denied based on the fact the NFLPA settled all prior issues prior to that collective bargaining agreement. Because of that, teams keep the bidding to a minimum to protect their own pockets and to prevent an early free agency from sprouting out right after the regular season.

Who have the Bengals signed?

The Bengals signed nine of their practice squad players to futures contracts. They haven’t yet signed anyone from another team’s practice squad or free agents, and they only lost Williams as we mentioned at the top of the story.

Players who will be on the Bengals’ 90-man offseason roster who were signed to futures contracts are:

  • Linebacker Carl Bradford
  • Kicker Jonathan Brown
  • Linebacker Connor Harris
  • Offensive tackle Javarius Leamon
  • Offensive guard Oni Omoile
  • Tight end Scott Orndoff
  • Cornerback Sojourn Shelton
  • Safety Robenson Therezie
  • Wide receiver Kermit Whitfield