Packers face decision on CB Eric Stokes’ fifth-year option

By: Paul Bretl 4/30/24

The Green Bay Packers have a looming decision to make on cornerback Eric Stokes’ fifth-year option for the 2025 NFL season. By May 2nd, they must either pick up or decline the fifth-year option for next year.

All first-round picks get a four-year rookie deal, just like every other draft pick. However, a difference between being taken in the first-round versus the second-round, for example, is that all first-round selections come with a fifth-year option in addition to the four-year deal.

Sometimes, the obvious difficulty of these decisions is that they have to be made a full year in advance of when the contract and salary cap ramifications take effect.

If the Packers were to pick up Stokes’ option, his contract for the 2024 season would remain the same, but he would essentially play out the 2025 season on a fully guaranteed one-year deal unless an extension were to be reached beforehand, which it often is. In fact, we’ve seen this exact process unfold during the last two seasons with Jaire Alexander in 2022 and Rashan Gary in 2023.

The dollar amounts for these fifth-year options are predetermined by the CBA–so there isn’t any negotiating between the Packers and Stokes. The key factors in determining the amount are the position that the player plays, the amount of playing time they’ve had, and if they’ve made any Pro Bowls.

In Stokes’ case, if the option were picked up, the Packers would pay him $12.47 million in 2025. And as I’ve already alluded to, because this is a one-year deal, and there are no additional years to push cap charges towards, that entire $12.47 million would count towards the Packers 2025 salary cap.

On the flip side, if the Packers were to decline Stokes’ option, he will play out the 2024 season and then would become a free agent next offseason.

As far as what the Packers do, in all likelihood, they are going to decline this option. There are just too many unknowns around Stokes at this time.

Although Stokes put together an impressive rookie season in 2021, prior to his season-ending injury in 2022, he was struggling through those first nine games, allowing a completion rate of 84 percent on 25 targets at 13.1 yards per catch with no pass breakups or interceptions. Then last season, Stokes played just 110 defensive snaps, largely due to hamstring injuries.

By the Packers not spending a draft pick on the cornerback position until the seventh-round, they certainly showed that they have confidence in the group that they currently have on the roster. Jaire Alexander will, of course, be starting on one side of the field, with presumably Stokes and Carrington Valentine competing for the starting spot across from him, while Keisean Nixon, and perhaps Javon Bullard, in the slot.

“I feel pretty good about it right now because we’re running around in shorts and everybody’s healthy,” said GM Brian Gutekunst after the draft. “So, you know, I understand the question. If it would have fallen right, we would have addressed that probably. But it just didn’t. it was kind of one of those years with that position. But right now, I really like our group and I like the way they look. We’ve got a long way to get to September with everybody healthy, but I like the way it looks right now.”

Contributing to what is hopefully improved play from the Packers cornerback unit in 2024 will be the addition of Jeff Hafley as defensive coordinator. Hafley has been praised for his ability as a teacher and ability to put together gameplans that allow the defenders to react rather than overthink. Hafley’s more man-heavy approach also suits the skill sets of Alexander, Stokes, and Valentine much better than zone did.

While Stokes may go into the 2024 season with some uncertainty around his future – assuming the Packers decline his option – at any point they still can extend him if he’s able to put together a bounce-back season.

“First of all, we’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys anyways,” said Matt LaFleur of the cornerback position. “Through two weeks of the offseason, the guys are really getting after it, all those guys – Jaire. We’ve got Corey Ballentine back. Obviously CV. Stokes looks great. We’ve got a lot of players that we’re confident in, in terms of going out there and playing at a high level.”