Detroit Lions Award Futures Contracts for 2012—Wait, What Are They Again?

By Joyce Dunne

I’d never paid attention to these before, but now I’m intrigued. With a new day dawning in Allen Park, futures contracts suddenly sound exciting, progressive, forward thinking. I had to know more.

Turns out the flurry of futures contract signings that blankets the league’s landscape every January receives limited coverage by the local press, sometimes amounting to a list of names and a handful of vitals. But I was able to piece together some meaningful information.

In awarding futures contracts, teams tend to sign the development squad essentially as it stands at the end of the season, plus or minus a player or two. Each Lions player signed to a futures contract this year, for example, participated on the practice squad at some point during the 2011 season. The contract allows players to take part in the team’s OTAs in the off-season. Looking at it another way, it means the team controls their rights through the off-season. To be eligible for a futures contract, a player cannot have finished the season on an active roster.

The nine players signed to futures contracts by the Lions this year are receivers Terrence Toliver, Nate Hughes and Marcus Harris, tight end Nathan Overbay, offensive linemen Dan Gerberry and Jacques McClendon, defensive end Ugo Chinasa, linebacker Slade Norris and cornerback Ross Weaver.

Oh, what if? Could one of these players become the steal of the decade? Well, let’s not get carried away. Many futures signees went undrafted or were taken in a late round and cut early, usually for good reason.

On the other hand, SB Nation Seattle writer Danny Kelly notes that the Seattle Seahawks saw two of last year’s futures contract players emerge as quality contributors: cornerback Brandon Browner, an alternate to the Pro Bowl this season, and guard Paul McQuistan, who gave a solid showing on the offensive line.

“Youth” and “potential” are the bywords organizations live and die by where futures contracts are concerned. But the deaths are relatively painless for the team, the signings low risk. Hence the low-key press turnout.

But it’s hard not to ask: Might one of these Lions futurists help perpetuate the new winning tradition at Ford Field? It’s one of the reasons they play the game, to answer such questions. Stay tuned.

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