Detroit Lions Futures Contracts: Can They Be Part of the Future?

May 27, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Casey Pierce (86) during OTA at Detroit Lions Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
May 27, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Casey Pierce (86) during OTA at Detroit Lions Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /
Detroit Lions tight end Casey Pierce (86) Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions tight end Casey Pierce (86) Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions currently have six players signed to Reserve/Futures contracts. Most are at least somewhat familiar names to Lions fans. But do any have much of a chance to make a dent in the NFL?

Before breaking down the players, it’s important to note what exactly their status is by being signed to a Reserve/Futures deal. These are all players who were not on any NFL roster or injured list at the conclusion of the season.

Their deals are typically for veteran minimum values, which was $435K for rookies in 2015. These players do count against the roster limits for 2016 but not the current 2015 NFL year, which doesn’t end until March. Hence the “future” part of the deal…

It’s not often these players wind up being more than guys cut during preseason, but there are definite exceptions. Among the players who have developed from being Reserve/Future signees into NFL starters in recent times:

  • Kamar Aiken, WR, Baltimore
  • Delvin Breaux, CB, New Orleans
  • Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans
  • Dion Lewis, RB, New England
  • Matt Paradis, C, Denver
  • Nick McDonald, C, San Diego
  • Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City

Another guy who emerged from this status is Michael Ola, the current starting right tackle in Detroit. He latched onto the Miami Dolphins with a Reserve/Future deal following the 2014 season. It took some time, but quietly Ola played decent football down the stretch for the Lions.

Here are the six players currently signed, along with their chances of making an impact for the Honolulu Blue and Silver…

Khaseem Greene–originally a fourth-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2013, the outside linebacker from Rutgers ended the 2015 season on Detroit’s practice squad. He started a handful of games as a rookie for the Bears, picking off a pass and forcing a fumble. Then the Bears staff realized that his lack of functional strength and subpar instincts weighed more than his closing burst and propensity for forcing fumbles.

Greene has some Ashlee Palmer to him, short and heavily reliant on his speed to make the play. Like Palmer, he was a safety who bulked up too much to remain in the secondary. Also like Palmer, he misses a lot of tackles by overpursuit and lacking pop.

His ticket to sticking in Detroit is special teams. The Lions do need a reserve outside linebacker who can run, cover and make an impact on return and coverage units. I was never a fan of Greene’s as a linebacker prospect, most notably because he was the last guy moving after the snap far more often than not. But if he can do as well as Travis Lewis (a free agent) on special teams, that job could be Greene’s.

Casey Pierce–the tight end from Kent State spent his entire rookie campaign on the Lions’ practice squad. Keep in mind the tight end corps was depleted during the season with injuries and the team sought out Bear Pascoe off the veteran scrap heap instead of promoting Pierce.

He figures to be in a dogfight with Jordan Thompson for the third TE role entering camp. Thompson is a better, more versatile player but he missed all of 2015 with a broken leg. Pierce did flash great hands at the 2015 Senior Bowl week, but at 6’3” and 240 pounds he needs to have a dynamic preseason to make it. I expect him to stick on the practice squad once again.

Ryan Spadola–a wideout originally from Lehigh, Spadola is another player who finished last season on Detroit’s practice squad. It was his fifth team in three seasons after being an undrafted free agent.

He showed enough to make the Jets as a rookie, even being active for a few games. New York tried to waive him through to the practice squad, but the rival Miami Dolphins thought enough of the 6’2”, 205-pound Spadola to swipe him.

Here’s what Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider wrote about him leading into the 2013 Draft:

Spadola /

His size and sure-handed reputation are his only real chance. Should Calvin Johnson go through with retirement, Spadola is instantly the second-biggest wideout on the roster after Corey Washington, who we’ll get to shortly…

Tyrus Thompson–here’s a player Lions fans might want to get legitimately excited about having in the den. A sixth-round pick by the Vikings in last year’s draft, he was running with the second unit at both right guard and right tackle before a concussion sidelined him. Minnesota then waived him off IR and he was quickly claimed by Jacksonville. The Lions plucked him off the Jaguars’ practice squad when LaAdrian Waddle was (mercifully) sent packing and the team needed OL depth.

I had Thompson graded as a fourth-round prospect last year, albeit an enigmatic one. During his Oklahoma career he played all over the line but primarily at tackle. When I interviewed a Sooner staffer in that draft he advised me Thompson graded out ahead of 2013 No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson.

He’s a power-oriented blocker who fares best in tight quarters. Thompson tends to lean into his blocks and it takes away from his base balance and strength. His good tape at Oklahoma was quite impressive, but he didn’t always appear mentally engaged and seemed unwilling at times to play to his considerable (6’5”, 325 pounds) size.

The Lions obviously need tackle help. For my money, Thompson is a better bet than Corey Robinson or Cornelius Lucas even though both sit ahead of him on the current depth chart. He’s behind the recently signed Lamar Holmes too, and that’s a foreboding sign for Thompson’s future in Detroit. He will need a consistent, intense, effective training camp to make it but the potential is there to at least make the practice squad once again.

Corey Washington–his bio should read “New York Giants preseason wonder”. Here’s what Fansided sister site Empire Writes Back penned about the physical wideout from Newberry,

"Washington was a preseason darling in 2014 for the Giants, emerging as a playmaker throughout the summer. A big reason for the Giants going 5-0 in the preseason last season was the dominance of Washington. The 6-foot-4 inch, 214 pound receiver dominated whenever he stepped on the field last preseason. He caught 10 passes for 155 yards and four touchdowns, all Giant team highs. He earned a spot on the roster despite his shortcomings on special teams because of the promise he showed as a receiver."

He likely had his same roster spot last season if not for a late preseason injury. After he was able to pass a physical, Washington signed with Washington and lingered on their practice squad until the end of 2015.

His size and actual NFL experience give him a leg up on the competition for the final gameday active wideout role. Washington is the most likely player here to ever do anything for the Lions.

Austin Willis–the third wideout on the list, Willis is different in that he’s a slot receiver by trade. A 5’9” dynamo out of Emporia State, he had cups of coffee with the Raiders and Bills in 2015 before being waived/injured.

Austin Willis, photo from Twitter
Austin Willis, photo from Twitter /

He’s been a longshot his whole football career. Willis was a track athlete who walked on at the D-II school in Kansas. An outstanding pro day, which featured a 4.38 40-yard dash, 39” vertical and 21 bench press reps, intrigued Oakland enough to bring him to camp.

Obviously Willis is an impressive athlete. Will it ever translate into anything on the NFL turf? It’s doubtful but not impossible. My guess is he’ll need to make it as a return man in Detroit.

If nothing else, Willis will forever be known as the first player signed by new GM Bob Quinn.