When NFL teams announce their Reserve/Future signings in January, it is met with very little fanfare, and rightfully so, of course, considering the abysmal rate of success that these players find in making an NFL roster. Teams use Reserve/Future signings largely to fill up their offseason rosters so that they have enough players to practice with.
The vast majority of these players are first-year players who were either late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents from the year prior. The Pittsburgh Steelers have no shortage of these players currently on their roster, including a host of them at the safety position.
Not all Reserve/Future signings come in so green, however. Some of them actually bring with them prior NFL playing experience. One such example that is currently on the roster would be safety Ross Ventrone, who was originally signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
Ventrone spent the 2011 season bouncing between the Patriots’ 53-man roster and practice squad, but in doing so carved out a niche for himself for his special teams play. Eventually, the Steelers signed him to a Reserve/Future contract in 2013. Though he failed to make the team that year, he did land on the practice squad in 2014.
Following an early injury to Shamarko Thomas, Ventrone was called up from the practice squad and stuck on the 53-man roster for the rest of the season as he became arguably the Steelers’ best gunner. He will have a battle on his hands to make the roster again, but his special teams ability gives him a leg up.
This offseason, the Steelers added two Reserve/Future players with playing experience at positions for which they have been looking for depth, adding 6’7” defensive end Matt Conrath and 6’5” tight end Michael Egnew.
Conrath, originally an undrafted free agent signing of the Rams in 2012, has spent time on the 53-man roster in each of his three NFL seasons, seeing his most extensive playing time in 2013 when he played over 100 snaps and logged seven tackles, in addition to a sack.
Egnew was a former third-round draft pick of the Dolphins, catching seven passes for 69 yards during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was released prior to the start of the 2014 regular season, briefly bouncing around practice squads before sitting out the majority of the year.
During the draft process, the Steelers showed a significant amount of interest in both the tight end and defensive end position, with both either getting long in the tooth or lacking quality depth. They ended up drafting both positions with tight end Jesse James in the fifth round and defensive end L.T. Walton in the sixth.
History has shown that veteran Reserve/Future players can stick on to a roster, with Ventrone serving as a ready example for Conrath and Egnew as they seek to find a second NFL franchise to stick to. They will have an uphill battle in pursuit of this goal, but stranger things have happened. If they can crack the practice squad, at least, a path may open.