ALLEN PARK — Don Muhlbach was working at a bank in East Texas when he got the call from the Detroit Lions. He hopped on a plane, played for the club the following Sunday and has served as the team’s long snapper ever since.
That call, by the way, happened in 2004.
Muhlbach has gone on to play 244 games for Detroit, which ties him for 56th on the NFL’s all-time games played list. He didn’t miss a single game in the last decade, starting all 160 games. And by all accounts, he remains one of the top players at the position at 38 years old.
But general manager Bob Quinn acquired competition for the job once before, selecting long snapper Jimmy Landes in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and now he’s done it again, signing former North Dakota State long snapper James Fisher to a futures contract on Monday. Fisher has not appeared in an NFL game since turning pro last year.
Punters Jack Fox and Matt Wile were also signed to futures deals, as Detroit begins to rework its special teams. Sam Martin has handled the punting duties since Detroit took him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, but is eligible to hit free agency in March.
Detroit signed 11 players to futures deals overall, including receiver Victor Bolden, receiver Jonathan Duhart, safety A.J. Howard, receiver Tom Kennedy, defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu, linebacker Christian Sam and guard Casey Tucker.
That’s basically Detroit’s practice squad to finish the regular season, minus quarterback Joe Callahan.
Any player not on a team at the end of the regular season is eligible to be signed to a futures contract, while everybody else is off limits until the start of free agency in March. Futures contracts work just like regular contracts, except they count against the next season’s salary cap and roster limit. Teams can begin signing players to such deals once their season is over.