Packers Have a Decision to Make on CB Eric Stokes

The Green Bay Packers have a decision to make regarding cornerback Eric Stokes. By the end of the coming season, GM Brian Gutekunst must decide whether to pick up Stokes’ fifth-year option for 2025.

Earlier this offseason, the Packers reached a compromise deal with 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love. They signed Love to a two-year extension for less than the fifth-year option but filled with incentives that will make Love well paid if he and the team do well.

Next up on the fifth-year option list is Stokes who presents an interesting dilemma for the front office.

Stokes had a very strong rookie season in 2021. He was thrust into starting duty sooner than expected after both Kevin King and Jaire Alexander were injured. He started 14 games as a rookie and broke up 14 passes while playing well in coverage.

According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks completed just 49.5 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and their quarterback rating was just 71.3.

There were still areas Stokes needed to improve upon. The former Georgia star had just one interception on the season and often struggled to track the ball in the air. Still, his overall performance was very strong, especially for a first-year player.

Unfortunately, Stokes’ performance fell off significantly in his sophomore season. He seemed unsure of himself, and his play showed it. Opposing quarterbacks completed 80 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and their quarterback rating went up to 123.5.

Part of the problem was the scheme deployed by defensive coordinator Joe Barry early in the season. Barry played a lot of soft zone that had cornerbacks giving receivers a large cushion at the line of scrimmage where Stokes was better using his speed in man coverage and pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage. His struggles at tracking the ball in the air became even more noticeable in the soft zone scheme.

Stokes’ season ended early after he suffered two serious injuries in the Packers Week 9 loss in Detroit. He hurt his knee and suffered a foot injury as well. It is still unclear whether he’ll be ready to start the 2023 season on time.

When Stokes does return, it remains uncertain how much he’ll see the field. Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas are established as the starters on the outside. Alexander is a Pro Bowl corner who the Packers should match up against the opponent’s top receiver regardless of where he lines up on the field. Douglas is a solid veteran corner as well. Both are better suited to playing the perimeter with Douglas not able to play the slot effectively because of his lack of elite speed.

The slot corner spot is likely to be manned by Keisean Nixon as the season starts but Stokes is also better suited to playing outside on the perimeter.

So, even when Stokes is healthy, it is unclear how often he’ll be on the field. Perhaps he’ll serve as the dime back initially, but that won’t give him too many reps on defense. He would then have to beat out one of the three starters to get more playing time.

By the end of the 2023 season, Gutekunst must decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option on Stokes, and he may not have a lot more of a sample size to make his ultimate judgment about the cornerback’s future.

The good news is that Stokes has always had a good attitude and work ethic. He has worked hard at rehab and hasn’t been discouraged by the lengthy recovery period.

In training camp as a rookie, Stokes kept a positive attitude as All Pros Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams picked on him day after day. The rookie realized his teammates were trying to make him a better player and accelerate his development.

But will that attitude and a strong rookie season be enough to have Gutekunst pick up Stokes’ fifth-year option? How big a part of the team’s future plans is the former first round pick? He may not see the field as much as he did as a rookie, but how he performs this year will be a big factor in determining the team’s decision on picking up his fifth-year option.

 

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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3 points
 

Comments (36)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

July 01, 2023 at 12:32 pm

Stokes’ future in GB depends, I believe, on a mixture of health—that was a bad injury—but equally as much on Joe Barry. Stokes has shown what he can do and what he isn’t good at. What Barry implemented last year demands none of his strengths and plays to his weaknesses.

Barry may change his approach closer to that of prior year. Barry may also be gone during or after this season. I loved the Stokes pick, but on the assumption we were going to be a tight press team. As a fit for the scheme Barry ran last year he’s a horrible choice: the two are about as diametrically opposed as they could be.

This is one of my issues with Barry, he seems happy to call coverages that require multiple players to play against their strengths. To be honest, I’m not sure whom last year’s scheme really benefited.

Let’s see how soon Stokes is really healthy, what Barry then does with him and if Barry will be doing so for long.

9 points
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ricky's picture

July 01, 2023 at 01:15 pm

This is a great post. Stokes did well when he was allowed to play to his strengths, and faltered when he was forced to play a scheme that emphasized his weaknesses. Rather than get rid of Stokes, how about getting rid of Barry? It came as a major shock to just about everybody when he was retained. Sure, the final few games showed that when cornered, he could actually utilize the strengths of his players. And LaFleur seems to be loyal to a fault. But do the players have confidence that their DC is putting them in the best position to win?

5 points
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SpikeHyzer's picture

July 01, 2023 at 02:25 pm

These are great arguments for getting rid of Barry. The D seemed to improve near the end of the season but we can't really be sure if Barry has finally seen the lightbulb go on and tries to work with what he has rather than put square pegs in round holes.

I guess there should be a short leash for him to prove it, but he's been around the league doing his thing badly for a long time. I'd hate to see all that talent go to waste on that side of the ball.

4 points
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jvole's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:10 am

I keep seeing people referring to this but I don't think Barry should get credit for an end of season turnaround. Yeah, he tweaked the defense toward the end but the secondary still looked confused on about 20% of the plays.

We beat teams with critical injuries (concussed quarterback who was shredding our defense before half/injury and a team playing a third string center). MLF put on the rose colored glasses at the end of the season for some reason and I'm afraid it is going to waste this talented defense in the upcoming year. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior--Barry's past behavior both with the Packers and before is not encouraging.

1 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:33 pm

Yes. Ja too. Let our talented defense win the game and you'd think we'd be fine!

0 points
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cdoemel's picture

July 01, 2023 at 07:11 pm

Not “what he wasn’t good at”. What he didn’t have the time to learn and grow at. I dearly hope this young man comes back in the green and gold and blows it up.

6 points
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croatpackfan's picture

July 01, 2023 at 01:28 pm

Regarding that decision about 5th year option, I believe Packers need to answer first on Joe Barry and his philosophy of defense. Packers drafted or signing press corners and it is not strange that secondary looked lost for almost whole season asked to play they were not used to and what was opposite to their talent.

Take that in combination with very often used 4 man front with just one guy (Kenny) who knows how to play in that system, while Reed and Lowry was more DE than interior guys, no surprise that D as unit performed as they were.

Proif for my claims is Jefferson numbers at Lambeau Field in that game vs Vikings, when D kept almost whole game Vikings scoreless. If that did not show Barry what he need to do, nothing will.

8 points
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stockholder's picture

July 01, 2023 at 02:13 pm

You can't turn a mule into a horse.
And we sure found out that, w/Kevin King.
No to the fifth.

-7 points
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BradHTX's picture

July 01, 2023 at 03:28 pm

The flaw in your logic: King was a horse that was always lame and should have been taken behind the barn years earlier. If Stokes looks like a mule to you and you think that’s a negative, it’s only because he’s being run in the Kentucky Derby instead of navigating mountain trails like he’s supposed to. His injury was unfortunate, but mostly his drop in production was due to being put in a situation for which he wasn’t suited, as others have said. Play him to his strengths and he’s a thoroughbred, not a mule.

8 points
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stockholder's picture

July 02, 2023 at 07:51 am

I'm pointing to the injury.
Thats was a major repair.
Doubt he has the same speed

0 points
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2
jannes bjornson's picture

July 01, 2023 at 03:58 pm

No way for any extension. Savage coughed back some of his free lunch, or he would be shown the door. The miss was on his team mate Tyson Campbell, a more physical guy and not afraid to tackle. Like Wolf taking T Buck vs Troy Vincent, an All-American playing in your backyard. I liked T Buck as the move guy, not the guy to front up Moss. See if Stokes makes the cut, or goes to IR. If he thinks Douglas can hold down a 3 zone matching up against anyone with speed, he's in for a lot of pain. The guy is always a draft behind. Tackle depth , D line, Edge is not as critical with Engabare holding down elephant. Van Ness should just be turned loose and forget about putting too much on his plate. See ball, tackle QB...

-1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

July 01, 2023 at 08:42 pm

Savage coughed back none of his $7.9 million guaranteed salary. Guaranteed if he's on the team or not.

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 01, 2023 at 08:53 pm

He's the best safety on the team.

Savage had already started in two Championship games by the time Campbell was available for the draft. As Chesty notes, he did not cough up any money, he gets paid regardless.

The Packers are most likely already considering scenarios that would extend him. But again, let's see how this season plays out.

-1 points
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egbertsouse's picture

July 01, 2023 at 09:33 pm

Ha Ha Clinton-Savage is the best safety on the team. That is truly a scary thought.

1 points
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Coldworld's picture

July 02, 2023 at 08:07 am

Without wanting to seem a Savage apologist, I think that Savage is a player who may have needed a kick but who, like others, was being asked to play against his strengths. I hope Savage is not just motivated, but used in ways that set him up with the best chance to turn things around. We need both things to occur for him to be good value and, I suspect, for this D to function close to expectations. There simply aren’t too many players who can do everything well in any system.

1 points
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stockholder's picture

July 02, 2023 at 08:33 am

I said a while back, he played cowardly.
But he just misses too many tackles to get paid.

2 points
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fthisJack's picture

July 02, 2023 at 11:25 am

After they benched him, he came back and played well. Message recieved.

1 points
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splitpea1's picture

July 01, 2023 at 02:23 pm

The first hurdle Stokes has to overcome is showing a full recovery from both injuries before any consideration of picking up the option. If he does, he is an excellent insurance option for the boundary right now and the probable replacement for Douglas in a couple of years.

Stokes' first season was extremely impressive, no doubt about it. But in his second he was almost a non-factor at times and failed to record a single pass breakup or turnover in 9 starts. You can say Barry wasn't utilizing Stokes to his strengths, which is absolutely true, but shouldn't a player deserving of an option or lucrative extension be able to adapt better and excel at more than one type of coverage? Or play multiple positions like Alexander?

I read somewhere that the Packers were working on an offensive package for Nixon, and if it ever materializes, he'll be contributing in all three phases of the game. And he's a bargain to begin with.

Even if Stokes does outlast Barry, there's no guarantee that the next DC is going to play exclusively to Stokes' strengths. So in addition to a full recovery, it would be helpful if Stokes showed improvement in his all-around game in what opportunities he has in order to prove he wasn't a one-year wonder. And then you hope Gute comes to the right conclusion either way, without becoming too attached to his picks--like he did with Savage.

4 points
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PhantomII's picture

July 02, 2023 at 10:45 am

Nixon has great vision like a RB and big play ability as a returner. I would bet he is the FS our DC is not putting in that position to excel at.

2 points
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1
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:43 pm

I look for Rich Bisaccia as assistant HC to keep JB's dumbass mistakes from ruining this season like that. It will be interesting to see what unfolds ...

2 points
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GregC's picture

July 01, 2023 at 03:00 pm

I'm pessimistic about Stokes. The team never fully disclosed what kinds of injuries he had, which seems like a very bad sign. Also, the network that broadcast the game refused to show the play in which he got injured because it was too gruesome. Until now, I hadn't even heard that it was two separate injuries that occurred at the same time.

It seems quite possible to me that Stokes will not be up to full speed by the end of this season. Unless there are injuries to a couple of other players, there may be no reason to put him out there at all even if he's healthy. So I'm thinking that anything we get out of Stokes this year will be a bonus, and maybe he won't even stick around past this year.

2 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:47 pm

Greg, his injuries have been announced. Not that I can remember exactly what they were right now. Certainly it's possible he doesn't get his elite speed back this year, that would really hurt.

Fortunately it looks like we have enough depth to not need to throw him into the fire until he's 100%. Again, another task our coaching staff needs to ACE.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 01, 2023 at 04:20 pm

We should see how the season plays out. He's still probably one of our 6 best CBs, he's on rookie deal, and we don't have to make any decisions at all until after the season.

12 points
13
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arthurl's picture

July 01, 2023 at 07:13 pm

Strokes fell off last season, but hopefully he can come back strong. He showed his talent that rookie season. This is a tough call considering he will be coming off an injury. The kind of injury he had makes it challenging how to judge this guy. I just don’t believe for this season we will see that player of 2021. He’s lost his starting spot with Nixon now in the slot, unless someone gets hurt.

1 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:49 pm

Starting role is over stated. Can he make plays when it counts? If he doesn't take a snap until week 11 that's fine as long as he shows up when it counts.

1 points
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PackerChef's picture

July 02, 2023 at 07:43 am

I actually believe he is in the top 3 CB's, Douglas should be a safety.

0 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:51 pm

I don't care where they play Easily, I saw him ball out last year! Hopefully he builds on that ...

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 02, 2023 at 07:08 pm

CBs are more valuable than S. If you don't believe me, check out the pay scales at some place like Spotrac. So if Douglas is good enough to be a starting corner, then that's where he should start.

If he's healthy and available, Stokes is no worse than our #3 CB, and he'll be playing in this league after Douglas isn't. Nixon, it looks, is our #4 CB in a perfect world. We only dress out 5 usually.

0 points
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Starrbrite's picture

July 04, 2023 at 08:48 pm

I agree (somewhat) that CB’s are more valuable than S’s.
However, I’ve read a few articles saluting the S position as the catalyst to a great (SB) D.
Lott, Butler, Atwater, Polamalu, Reed, Willie Wood and on and on—SB safety’s. No matter the sport—if you’re strong up the middle… .
Go Packers!!!

0 points
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HarryHodag's picture

July 02, 2023 at 08:58 am

You have to assume there's going to be injuries. Few teams get through a grueling season without losing a starter or two. Stokes has too much talent to give up on him. He will need time to get back into the flow, like David B. did at left tackle.

At this point it's wait-and-see, but my thinking is a talented corner is too good to give up on.

Joe Barry might be the issue, not Stokes.

2 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:53 pm

HH, depth is key right now. I'd love to see these yutes all develop into serious strength, giving MLF fits as to who he has to cut. I don't find the 20 that need to be cut to be at all obvious, I stall at about 14.

1 points
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PhantomII's picture

July 02, 2023 at 10:39 am

Stokes may never have what he did pre-injury. He may never be able to play up to his rookie season. We seem to waste a lot of picks for DB's that never work out. A FA DB may be our best bet next season and beyond. If you have to burn 3-4 #1 picks to get 1 great CB....we may be better off picking other positions instead. Next season with 2-#1 picks we may go Edge again...as P. Smith is getting older. Maybe one of the 4 Safeties works out and maybe light goes on for Savage...We have not had a FS in forever. Hopefully someone steps up.

2 points
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

July 02, 2023 at 06:58 pm

I certainly hope next draft we need few key players and can trade up to strengthen those few weaknesses on the roster. As I understand it, not spending every last dollar on the cap now carries over to availability next year? Seems like a reasonable trade to me. It's not like 2025 is free of dead cap.

Finding out what weaknesses truly exist on the roster, as well as our coaching staff, and getting all that fixed before 2025 is worth its weight in gold IMHO.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 02, 2023 at 07:29 pm

Sadly, a big part of every offseason is replacing people who have left.

Next offseason, it's entirely possible that we'll be replacing Bakhtiari, Jones, Dillon, Deguara.....and that's just on offense. After that, we can start strengthening things.

So yeah, you start every year with a couple of shiny picks early in the draft, but the reality is that a big part of your team is composed of guys that are Day3/UDFAs, especially if you consider the Practice Squad as part of the team. That's 69 guys, you can afford to pay maybe a dozen, and most of the rest are rookie contract or vet minimum guys.

Tonyan and Lewis leave, we get Musgrave and Kraft.
We lose Lowry and Reed, we get Wooden and Brooks.
We lose Amos, we draft Johnson.
We spent a pick on a QB. We replaced Lazard with Reed.

All of those guys were guys who were veterans getting paid, and we've replaced them with rookies. You're always have to make sure you can put a team on the field. Van Ness, IMO, is an organizational investment in edge pressure, which Gutekunst thinks is key to pass defense.

0 points
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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 03, 2023 at 02:17 am

The big difference between picking up the 5th year option for Savage versus Stokes is cost. I advocated to picking up Savage's option because $7.9M isn't all that much money. I guessed he'd be worth $4M even if he didn't blossom, so the gamble was $3.9M. Savage has played half a season at a high level.

Stokes is likely to cost $13.5M fully guaranteed in 2025, perhaps more if the cap increases a lot. That's a bigger gamble. So, unlike with Savage, Stokes has to look like a good NFL player in 2023. What I think the Packers should do is completely dependent on how he looks this year. Rasul Douglas will be an unrestricted free agent in 2025, and also will be 31 years old. If GB doesn't have Stokes (one way or another) for 2025, they will have to buy or draft a cornerback. $13.5M probably buys at least an average starting CB, though I suppose the team might have to add a bit of money due to likely cap inflation.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

July 03, 2023 at 09:26 am

In the NFL, defense is pass defense, and pass defense starts with covering guys until the pressure reaches home, and that means you've got to have guys who can cover for longer than 2 seconds. Most offenses have two or three guys who do most of the damage in the passing game, so being able to neutralize/negate one of them is worth a big pile of money.

And yes, we need to keep drafting CBs and searching for free agent bargain gems like Douglas. But if you want premium studs in that secondary, then you'll have to draft them, and if you don't draft them, you won't have them. There aren't enough Sam Shields or Tramon Williams to build a secondary out of Day 3/UDFAs, not when you need to play six at a time and guys get hurt.

As regards Stokes specifically, let's see what he does this year. My hope/prediction is that he stays healthy and plays well and we sign him to a contract extension after the season.

1 points
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