The Green Bay Packers are in a rebuilding phase right now after trading Aaron Rodgers and promoting Jordan Love to be their starting quarterback. The team also moved on from numerous veterans and younger, inexperienced players were thrust into major roles. But this offseason, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst will have some tough choices to make about two former first-round picks and their futures with the team.
First Tough Choice on a Packers Former First Round Pick: Safety Darnell Savage
The Packers selected Darnell Savage in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The former Maryland star became a starter in his rookie season. His potential and good play earned him All-Rookie honors.
Savage played his best football in the second half of the 2020 season. He and Adrian Amos combined to give the Packers one of the best safety duos in the NFL. They were playing at a high level down the stretch that season. Savage finished that campaign with a career-high four interceptions.
Unfortunately, Savage has not been consistent since then. His play fell off in 2021 and 2022. By the second half of the 2022 season, head coach Matt LaFleur benched Savage for his poor performance and indifferent tackling. He returned to the lineup due to injury late in the season and played a bit better.
The Packers brought Savage back this season on his fifth-year option deal. They later restructured the deal and added void years for short-term cap relief.
The Choice on Darnell Savage
This season, Savage played better before being placed on injured reserve with a calf injury. It remains unclear when he will return to the lineup.
Presently, Savage has a base salary of $1.125 million and an overall cap hit of slightly more than $5.45 million. He has a dead cap hit of $5.45 million according to spotrac.com.
Will the Packers let Savage go, rework his deal, or keep him on the roster at that rate? How he plays when he returns to the lineup may be a determining factor. How Rudy Ford, Anthony Johnson, Jr., and other backups play will also factor into the equation.
Second Tough Choice on a Packers Former First Round Pick: CB Eric Stokes
Gutekunst faces a different choice regarding Eric Stokes. The Packers must decide whether to exercise his fifth-year option on the former Georgia star during the coming offseason.
Stokes got his career off to a solid start in 2021 and put up excellent numbers when he was thrust into a starting role early in the season. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 49.5 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and had a quarterback rating of 71.3.
Stokes still had outstanding speed and could catch up to receivers after being beaten early in a pass pattern. He still needed to improve his ability to play the ball in the air and to hold on to interceptions. He made one pick and broke up 14 passes in 16 games.
Stokes suffered a sophomore slump in 2022. Instead of making progress in year two, Stokes looked tentative and was often ineffective. Opposing quarterbacks completed 80 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and had a quarterback rating of 123.5.
Injuries Disrupt Eric Stokes’ Career
Stokes’ 2022 season ended in Week 9 when he suffered knee and foot injuries. He spent the rest of the season on IR.
The injuries prevented Stokes from being ready for the start of training camp this season and he was placed on the PUP list. He wasn’t activated until the Packers Week 7 game in Denver.
Stokes played four snaps on special teams before suffering another injury and landing on injured reserve again. The earliest he can return to action is the Packers Thanksgiving game in Detroit in Week 12.
The Choice the Packers Have to Make on Eric Stokes
Gutekunst must decide whether to exercise Stokes’ fifth-year option this season. If he does, the Packers will have to pay Stokes almost $11.95 million in 2025. His salary would be guaranteed for one year and there would be no signing bonus.
Gutekunst could also try to sign Stokes to an extension that would be a lower initial cap hit than the $11.95 million or they could simply decide to wait and see what Stokes does the rest of 2023 and in 2024 before deciding whether to offer him a new contract and at what dollar amount.
Because of Stokes’ fast start and subsequent regression, Gutekunst will have difficulty placing a value on his former first round pick this season. He is more likely to wait before deciding whether to make a new contract offer or to make a lower offer to Stokes this offseason which the player and his agent may not accept.
Either way, the Packers have important decisions to make regarding these two former first-round picks.
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