Tough call coming on controlled free agents

Weston Hodkiewicz
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First in a daily series looking at the Green Bay Packers' unrestricted, restricted and exclusive-right free agents in advance of the start of the 2016 league year March 9.

The future of Mason Crosby, B.J. Raji and the rest of the Green Bay Packers’ unrestricted free agents aren’t the only decisions general manager Ted Thompson must make in the weeks ahead.

The Packers have four controlled free agents whom they must make a determination on before the start of free agency: offensive lineman Lane Taylor (restricted), outside linebacker Andy Mulumba (restricted), safety Chris Banjo (exclusive right) and tight end Justin Perillo (exclusive right).

A daily look at the Packers' free agents

Restricted free agents are players with three accrued NFL seasons who must be tendered a first-round, second-round or first-right-of-refusal offer sheet to remain under a team’s control. The tenders allow the Packers to match any outside offers from NFL clubs.

Restricted players can become unrestricted free agents if their controlling team opts against offering a contract. NFL teams occasionally will go that route even if they want to retain a player in hopes of getting them at a lower price than the low tender, which will be approximately $1.6 million in 2016.

Exclusive-right free agents have fewer than three accrued NFL seasons and must accept a one-year minimum contract if their controlling team chooses to extend one.

It’s a foregone conclusion the Packers will offer a contract to Banjo, a fourth-string safety who was a special-teams captain during the playoffs after leading coverage units with 21 tackles in 2015. It’s likely they’ll do the same with Perillo, who had 11 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown.

Since neither has three accrued NFL seasons, Banjo and Perillo must accept a one-year contract for the three-year minimum of $600,000 contract. It’s nothing new to Banjo, who has been in the same situation in each of the past two offseasons.

Packers' free agents: Who stays, who goes?

The conversation is a little more difficult in regards to Taylor and Mulumba, who each made the Packers’ 53-man roster as undrafted rookies in 2013. Taylor was a healthy scratch in 12 regular-season games last season, but also served as the primary backup to Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang at guard.

Taylor, 26, played fine in two December spot starts at right guard in Detroit and left guard against Minnesota in the regular-season finale. While not as athletic as Lang or Sitton, Taylor is a battler with a mean streak. If either veteran was out for an extended period, there’s no reason to think Taylor couldn’t handle the job.

For that reason, the Packers might very well extend Taylor a low tender like they did last year for Don Barclay, who started 18 games at right tackle in his first two NFL seasons before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in training camp. Working against Taylor is the fact that he plays only guard.

Mulumba, 26, was the odd man out at outside linebacker for most of last season. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound edge rusher was no worse for wear after tearing his ACL in Week 2 of 2014, but a deep and healthy positional group resulted in him playing only 44 defensive snaps in six regular-season games.

Clay Matthews is expected to play more at outside linebacker next season, but the future of Mike Neal and Nick Perry is cloudy with both scheduled to hit free agency. While it seems unlikely Thompson would give Mulumba a $1.6 million contract, he could stay in the Packers’ plans for 2016.

The Packers kept him around at a deep position for a reason. Even if he isn’t retained with a tender, he could re-sign for one year at $675,000, which is the minimum for a fourth-year player.

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Lane Taylor, fourth-year guard

The skinny: Restricted free agent.

The snaps: 172 total (153 offense, 19 special teams).

The stats: Four games (two starts).

2015 salary: $590,850.

Andy Mulumba, fourth-year outside linebacker

The skinny: Restricted free agent.

The snaps: 91 total (44 defense, 47 special teams).

The stats: Four tackles in six games.

2015 salary: $590,850.

Chris Banjo

The skinny: Exclusive-right free agent.

The snaps: 477 total (101 defense, 376 special teams).

The stats: 16 tackles, one pass deflected in 16 games (one start).

2015 salary: $590,850.

Justin Perillo

The skinny: Exclusive-right free agent.

The snaps: 169 total (121 defense, 48 special teams).

The stats: 11 receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown in nine games.

2015 salary: $398,850.

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