The Green Bay Packers have a difficult decision to make this offseason regarding cornerback Eric Stokes. GM Brian Gutekunst must decide whether to exercise the team’s fifth year option on the former first-round pick out of Georgia which would kick in for the 2025 season.

The Background Behind the Packers Tough Decision on Eric Stokes

The Packers selected Stokes with the 29th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He unexpectedly became a starter as a rookie due to injuries to Kevin King.

Stokes started 14 games in 2021 and played in all 16. He broke-up 14 passes and used his outstanding speed to stay with receivers on a consistent basis. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 49.5 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes according to Their quarterback rating was just 71.3.

While speed was Stokes’ strength, his weakness was tracking the football in the air. He made only one interception all season which came off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

While he wasn’t named to the All-Rookie Team, Stokes looked like he had a bright future after a strong showing in his first NFL campaign.

Struggles and Injuries in Years Two and Three

Unfortunately, Stokes was unable to maintain the high standard of play he established in his first season with the team. In 2022, he got off to a very slow start and struggled in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks completed 80 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and their quarterback rating went up to 123.5.

The second-year man seemed to lose his confidence and was often burned in coverage. Part of the reason for this could have been that the soft zone coverages often employed by then defensive coordinator Joe Barry did not play to Stokes’ strengths.

Midway through the season, Stokes suffered serious knee and foot injuries that ended his campaign.

Injuries limited Stokes even more in 2023. The injury that ended his season the previous year hadn’t healed yet and he started the season on the PUP list. He finally returned for one-game midseason and suffered another injury after playing just a handful of plays on special teams.

Stokes only played three games the entire season and only two of them on defense. Due to the injuries, he continued to struggle. Opposing quarterbacks completed 75 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and had a quarterback rating of 145.3.

The Packers Tough Decision on Eric Stokes

NFL rookies typically sign four-year, entry-level contracts. But teams can exercise a fifth-year option on former first-round draft picks like Stokes. Under this provision, the team signs the player to a one-year deal for a predetermined amount based on their performance and position. There is no signing bonus or incentives, and the money is guaranteed. The salary is the cap hit.

In order to keep Stokes for a fifth season, they would have to pay him approximately $11.3 million for 2025.

Gutekunst doesn’t have the luxury of watching how Stokes plays in 2024. The decision has to be made during the current offseason.

There is another way to go. Gutekunst could do something similar to what he did with Jordan Love. The team could sign Stokes to a two-year extension with incentives that would pay him less than the fifth-year option, but more than Stokes would likely earn on the open market with his injury history.

The Ultimate Decision

It is unlikely that Gute will pay more than $11 million for a player who has played just three games in the last season and a half. He may seek to sign Stokes to an extension early in the season, however, if he sees him playing well again in 2024.

Stokes still has work to do to return to his rookie form or even surpass it. If he can do that, he can earn a second contract with the Packers. If not, he may go down as a first round pick whose career was disrupted by injuries.




Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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