IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys signed eight of their practice squad players to their reserve/futures list on Monday evening, ensuring them a roster spot for the coming spring.
The eight signees are linebacker Derek Akunne, wide receiver Donte Foster, defensive back Buddy Jackson, running back Ben Malena, defensive end Mike McAdoo, cornerback Brandon McGee, defensive end Efe Obada and linebacker Keith Smith.
Signing players to futures contract is an annual event at the close of the NFL season. Any player that isn't on an active league roster at the end of the season is eligible to sign one, and it ensures he may not be signed by another team.
Futures contracts don't go into effect until the beginning of the league year in March, but they allow NFL teams to secure talent for their 90-man roster heading into spring practices and training camp.
The vast majority of the eight signees have only been with the Cowboys for a limited time. Three of them – Foster, McGee and McAdoo – signed just last week, on Dec. 30. Akunne and Jackson signed just a week before that, on Dec. 22.
The other three have a longer history with the team. Malena has gone to training camp with the Cowboys the past two seasons, but he hasn't made the final cut either year. After parting ways with him in September, the Cowboys added them back to their practice squad on Dec. 5.
Keith Smith has famously bounced back and forth between the Cowboys' practice squad and active roster for two years. Last season he appeared in 10 games, filling in as needed when injuries struck the linebacker unit. This fall he made the team's initial 53-man roster, as Rolando McClain sat out due to a four-game suspension, and played in the first four games of the year. He was waived and signed to the active roster in October when McClain returned, though he made one more appearance on the active roster in November while Sean Lee sat out with a concussion.
Obada is another noteworthy name, as the Cowboys signed him last spring after discovering his potential in an amateur football league in the United Kingdom. Obada was waived following training camp, but he has spent the majority of the season on the Cowboys' practice squad.
The Cowboys are free to sign other future contracts as they see fit, provided they meet the 90-man roster limit at the outset of the league year in March. The league's free agency period begins on March 16, 2016.