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Four downs: Steelers already looking to future

| Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, 9:24 p.m.

Steelers

LOOKING AHEAD

The Steelers remain in the midst of the 2015 season but already are looking ahead. The team held tryouts for free agents this week and could sign them to reserve/futures contracts as early as Monday.

Actually, it started in a subtle way when the Steelers added Ross Ventrone and L.J. Fort to the 53-man active roster during the past week.

By putting them on the active roster, it allowed the Steelers some time to determine whether they want them back next year. Their current contracts won't expire until the first day of the new season March 9.

Only players who were not on any team's active roster at the end of the season are eligible to sign reserve/future contracts.

No team can poach a player signed to a reserve/futures contract, and the contract won't count against the salary cap or 53-man limit. It will count against the salary cap and 90-man camp limit of the following season.

For the most part, these players are just camp bodies (or their own practice squad players) but not always.

Two years ago, the Ravens signed Kamar Aiken to a reserves/future deal, and he is their leading receiver this year. The Steelers signed Roosevelt Nix, the Patriots got Dion Lewis and the Saints got Willie Snead, whom they secured from Carolina's practice squad a month earlier.

While the names of most future/reserve players won't wow you, they can be helpful.

Steelers reserve/futures signings since 2010:

Year No.

2015 19

2014 19

2013 12

2013 19

2011 15

2010 15

AFC NORTH

NOT THE STEELERS

There is a sense Cleveland coach Mike Pettine will be fired after Sunday's game against the Steelers. It would be fitting. The past four coaches the Browns fired — Rob Chudzinski, Pat Shurmur, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel — were axed after they lost to the Steelers in the regular-season finale.

NFL

PARITY LEAGUE

Twelve teams make the playoffs, and it is possible five teams that missed the playoffs last year will qualify. The Chiefs, Vikings and Redskins are in with the Jets and Texans on the cusp of qualfiying. That would be the most since 2011.

Fantasy focus

START, BENCH, SLEEP

Who to start: RB DeAngelo Willians, Steelers: Williams needs 101 yards to reach 1,000, and the Browns are the worst in NFL against the run.

Who to bench: QB Kirk Cousins, Redskins: Cousins has been one of the best quarterbacks over the past month, but you can't trust how much he will play.

Who is a sleeper play: WR Jordan Matthews, Eagles: Matthews has scored in four of past five, and the Giants defense has been awful.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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