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December 30, 2014 at 9:01 PM

What’s a futures contract, anyway?

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know that I passed along in the past few days the news that a couple of recent Seattle draftees had signed futures contracts with other teams — WR Chris Harper with the Giants and RB Spencer Ware with the Chiefs.

Each were members of Seattle’s draft class of 2013 — Harper in the fourth round and Ware in the sixth

Harper never played a down for Seattle, released in the cutdown to 53 in 2013 and then signed to the active roster by the 49ers, which prevented the Seahawks from putting him on the practice squad, which they surely would have done.

Harper was later released by the 49ers and then signed by Green Bay, for whom he played three games in 2013. Cut by the Packers, he was not on a roster this season  until being signed this week.

Ware played in two games for Seattle last season before suffering an ankle injury that eventually landed him on IR. He then was released prior to this season. He also was not on a roster until being signed by the Chiefs.

The news I passed along about Harper and Ware led a handful of readers to ask what a “futures” contract is.

So here’s the answer, which hopefully makes sense.

Basically, a futures contract is the same as any other contract that a free agent would sign. But the reason it is called a futures contracts is because it technically doesn’t take effect until the new league year begins March 10th, when contracts shift to counting against the salary cap for the upcoming season.

During the season, teams are limited to the 53-man active roster and the 10-man practice squad. Once the season ends, teams can begin signing free agents, and can eventually get to the 90-man limit for training camp. Teams still playing, such as Seattle, can sign players to futures deals now, but those players would not be part of the team now, with their contracts taking effect in March.

Often, the players you see signed to futures deals right now are those who were on a team’s practice squad. But teams still playing, such as Seattle, still have their practice squads intact, so they don’t need to sign those players to futures deals now.

Practice squads dissolve once the season ends, so signing those players to futures deals binds them to your team. Futures contracts don’t count against the salary cap for this year, but will once they take effect with the new league season.

Players eligible for futures deals are those who were not on an active roster at the end of the regular season (and as noted, since practice squads dissolve once the season ends, those players immediately become free agents).

As noted, playoff teams can sign deals to futures contracts (Denver signed four this week, as detailed here). But as the story notes, those players are not with Denver now. The contracts merely bind them to the Broncos until the new league year begins, when they then officially become Broncos.

Seattle did not sign any players to futures contracts last year until right after the Super Bowl, when the Seahawks signed nine players who had been on the practice squad (notably, TE Cooper Helfet — WR Chris Matthews also signed a futures contract last year).

 

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