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What it means when the Jets sign a player to a reserve/future contract

The Jets will start signing players next week.

NFL: Preseason-New York Jets at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next couple of weeks you will inevitably hear that the Jets are signing players to reserve/future contract. You might wonder what that means.

To understand the reserve/future contract you must first understand NFL roster limits. Of course during the season, teams can only have 53 players on their roster. As you might remember, the limit was higher during training camp and preseason. Teams are allowed to have up to 90 players at the start of camp.

Here’s the thing. Just because the Jets’ season ends in Week 18 doesn’t mean they get to expand their roster. The roster limit remains 53 through the end of the league year in March.

This is where the reserve/future contract comes into play. Rather than force teams to wait until the new league year in March to start stocking their training camp roster, the league allows teams to sign players in advance. These players don’t count against the 53 man roster, but they will count against the 90 man roster once the new league year comes. That’s why these contracts are called reserve/future deals. These players are held in reserve until the future.

Who can sign these contracts? The answer is any player who is currently a free agent. Practice squads cease to exist as soon as a team’s season ends. Every Jets practice squad player will immediately become a free agent once the game against New England is over. The Jets can sign these players to reserve/future deals. So can other teams. The Jets can also sign players from other teams’ disbanded practice squads and players who are not on a team or a practice squad.

The Jets cannot, however, sign players to reserve/future deals from other teams’ active rosters who are about to hit free agency like Tee Higgins. Existing contracts technically don’t expire until the current league year ends in March.

As you might imagine, players who sign reserve/future contracts seldom make much of an impact in the future. After all, these are players who were not on an NFL active roster at the end of the previous season. Occasionally, though a smart front office can find a gem or two in this process.