Packers Decline $12.5 Million Option on Former 1st-Round Pick

Eric Stokes, Packers

Getty Cornerback Eric Stokes of the Green Bay Packers.

The Green Bay Packers are tightening their proverbial belt in the secondary after spending big money and several picks in last weekend’s NFL draft to bolster the unit.

Green Bay’s decision will come at the expense of former first-round cornerback Eric Stokes, after the organization chose to decline its $12.5 million fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

“The #Packers are declining the fifth-year option for CB Eric Stokes, source says,” Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported via X on Thursday, May 2. “The 29th pick in 2021, Stokes played well as a rookie but has battled injuries the past two years. He’s slated for free agency next spring and can make a case for a big payday if he stays healthy.”

Eric Stokes’ Injury Issues Primary Reason Packers Passed on Contract Option

GettyGreen Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes has battled injury problems over the past two seasons.

Stokes played in 16 games, starting 14 of those, during his rookie campaign. The cornerback tallied 14 pass breakups and an interception during that season, but has accomplished little since.

Over the past two years, Stokes has appeared in just 12 games (including 11 starts) and has not recorded a single pass defense, let alone an INT, per Pro Football Reference. A big part of that lack of production has been the cornerback’s inability to stay on the field.

Stokes suffered a major injury against the Detroit Lions in November 2022, which proved considerably worse than initially thought. Rob Demovsky of ESPN reported the full extent of Stokes’ issues in May of last year.

“CB Eric Stokes said he had surgery on his knee and foot — they were done at the same time — after his November injury. He had a lisfranc injury and had a plate inserted in his foot,” Demovsky wrote. “He said he finally started running a couple weeks ago and believes he’ll get his speed back.”

Stokes began the 2023 campaign on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as his rehabilitation from those injuries continued. He didn’t make his debut until Week 7.

Just four special teams snaps into that contest, Stokes suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the next seven weeks. He ended up starting a couple of games for the Packers late in the year, before the team placed him on injured reserve [IR] yet again ahead of Week 17, noting a hamstring issue as the justification for a move that ended Stokes’ season.

Packers Taking Calculated Risk Passing on 5th-Year Option for Eric Stokes

GettyGreen Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes.

The Packers’ decision to pass on Stokes’ fifth-year option comes with little surprise considering how infrequently the now 25-year-old player has been available.

The choice is a risk, however, as Stokes will hit the open market next March, barring a decision from the team to apply the franchise tag to keep him. Doing so would require Green Bay to pay Stokes a one-year wage that matches the average of the top five salaries at the position across the league. Suffice it to say, that price tag will be considerably higher than the $12.5 million option for 2025 the Packers have now declined.

If Stokes has a breakout campaign and Green Bay wants to keep him on the roster, the franchise will be forced to compete with other suitors for his services on a long-term deal, likely including far more guaranteed money than the aforementioned $12.5 million.

While the Packers are taking a risk with Stokes, it is a calculated one. History indicates Stokes won’t stay healthy or, if he does, that he won’t be an elite player at the position. As such, Green Bay’s call to decline his fifth-year option either gets the team off of a bad contract a year early, or allows the Packers to renegotiate with Stokes at a better price, while still extending a starting-caliber cornerback over multiple years.

The Packers made 11 picks in the 2024 NFL draft, including three safeties (Javon Bullard, Evan Williams, Kitan Oladapo) and a cornerback (Kalen King). Green Bay also signed star safety Xavier McKinney to a four-year, $67 million deal in free agency.

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