Walker, Wyatt and the Fifth-Year Option

With lucrative fifth-year options looming, big seasons are ahead for the Green Bay Packers' 2022 first-round picks, Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt.
Packers linebacker Quay Walker tackles Bears running back Khalil Herbert.
Packers linebacker Quay Walker tackles Bears running back Khalil Herbert. / Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers, to the surprise of no one, did not exercise the fifth-year option for cornerback Eric Stokes earlier this month.

Up next are the team’s 2022 first-round picks, linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt. The deadline to make those decisions most likely will be May 6, 2025.

Plenty can change between now and then, obviously, with the looming 2024 season playing a large role in the team’s decision. Walker hasn’t been great but it’s hard to quibble with 239 tackles in 31 career games. After a quiet rookie season, Wyatt more than doubled 2022 his production with 36 tackles, 5.5 sacks, six tackles for losses and 11 quarterback hits in 2023.

After playing as one of two off-the-ball linebackers in the old 3-4 scheme, Walker lined up as the middle linebacker in Hafley’s base 4-3 alignment at Packers OTAs on Tuesday.

“I think he’s done an outstanding job,” coach Matt LaFleur said after Tuesday’s practice. “Just comes here and goes to work every day. A lot of learning has taken place. We’re asking these guys to do some different things that they’ve done from his past, but he’s embraced that challenge.”

With his height, length and athleticism, Walker’s skill-set would fit any scheme. He will be featured by the new defensive coaching staff led by coordinator Jeff Hafley.

“This guy is very dialed in,” linebackers coach Anthony Campanile said before OTAs. “I’m very excited for him, and I think he’s trying to do things the right way. He’s a really, really talented guy, and beyond that he’s a great person. He really is like a great guy to be around – got the right attitude, is driven and wants to be great. He’s really trying to be very, very detailed in the meeting room, on the field. So, to continue to do that, I would say, is the No. 1 way to continue down that road.”

Wyatt’s growth in Year 2 flew under the radar. The Packers let Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed leave in free agency, opening the door to Wyatt for a much larger role.

Wyatt ran right through that door. Last season, 98 interior defensive linemen had at least 200 pass-rushing opportunities. From that group, Wyatt was second (behind only Chiefs All-Pro Chris Jones) in ProFootballFocus.com’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per passing play, and sixth in pass-rush win rate.

Wyatt should feel right at home in the new defense, which will put the linemen in attack mode.

“The thing about Devonte Wyatt, he’s quick, fast and athletic. So, you’re going to have to develop things around him to use those attributes,” defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich said. “What a great opportunity for him and us. That’s the mindset that we’re working to develop is creating those TFLs, that mindset of getting into the backfield. And he executes every one of those. He checks all the boxes.

“We’re definitely looking for a great outcome for that young man for this upcoming season.”

If he does, he’s going to make a lot of money in 2025. So will Walker.

The fifth-year option is available only to first-round picks, with the decision made after the player’s third season. The salary is fully guaranteed.

The salary is based on the salary cap and franchise-tag numbers. The figures for 2025 have not been determined and no doubt will be higher than these from 2024. But for the sake of this story, let’s say they stay the same:

- A linebacker who meets specific playing-time thresholds (probably Walker, assuming he stays healthy) would make $14.483 million. With one Pro Bowl on the resume, that would increase to $19.971 million.

- A defensive tackle who fails to meet playing-time thresholds (probably Wyatt) would make $11.754 million. With one Pro Bowl, that would move to $18.491 million.

In the case of Stokes, it was a dismal season for the 2021 first-round pick. Injuries limited him to three games. He saw action on defense in only two games and allowed three touchdowns – tied for the most by a Packers cornerback. He will face a make-or-break season in 2024.

Stokes is hardly an outlier. As noted by Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame, only 49 of 96 first-round picks in 2019, 2020 and 2021 had their options exercised. 

More Green Bay Packers News

Packers OTAs: ‘Elite’ Rasheed Walker? | Why did AJ Dillon re-sign? | Injury updates | Christian Watson’s asymmetry | Big goals but torn pectorals | Jordan Love’s focus

Latest news: An athletic roster | A complete roster | Help at cornerback? | Joint practices | Jordan Love and Davante Adams | PFF’s QB rankings | NFL’s fastest | Incredible roster fact 

Published |Modified
Bill Huber


Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: packwriter2002@yahoo.com History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: https://twitter.com/BillHuberNFL Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and PackerReport.com. In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.