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Explaining an NFL Reserve/Future contract, and what it means

The Pittsburgh Steelers are signing a lot of players to Reserve/Future contracts. We explain what that means...

Seattle Seahawks v Washington Football Team Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers made pretty big headlines this week when they signed rejected quarterback Dwayne Haskins to a contract. When the news first hit, fans feared the worst. That would be the Steelers giving Haskins a multi-year deal which would put them in further salary cap hell heading into the 2021 league year.

What fans found out quickly was that was not the case, but the Steelers gave Haskins a one year Reserve/Future contract. Fans know enough to know this means it is a low risk contract, but what are the actual limitations, and the definition, of a Reserve/Future contract?

Let us explain things for you...

During the offseason, things get a little weird. First of all, teams are technically required to stick to the 53-man roster until the new league year begins in early March each year. Whether a team is in the Super Bowl or they were eliminated from playoff contention by week ten of the regular season, the 53-man roster rule is the same.

Enter the “Futures Contract.”

These contracts are interesting. Unlike a normal player contract, which takes effect the moment they are signed, futures contracts take effect on the first day of the new league year. This coincides with the day teams can expand their rosters to a new, 90-player max — the limit from day one of the league year until the first round of cuts during training camp.

Usually, futures contracts are used for young players. Technically, they can be used to sign anyone who was not on an active roster when the preceding regular season ended. The problem is, most savvy veterans are going to be on a roster, so you basically never hear of a highly talented player signing one of these contracts. Usually, teams will first target their own practice squad players they think could eventually contribute, because practice squads are dissolved when the league year ends. Signing those players to futures contracts ensures they will at least be under team control through the beginning of training camp, and not at risk of being snagged away by another team in need.

So, when it comes to players like Haskins, and the lengthy list of others who will officially be on the Steelers’ roster when the new league year starts in March, they are signed to a pretty cheap, one-year contract for the upcoming season.

Consider it a “prove it” deal, and sometimes players like Mike Hilton prove their worth and then some when given the opportunity.

Hopefully this explained these type of deals for those who didn’t know how things worked. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year.