Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson is suspended for ten games, officially. The long and convoluted process of appeals is over. Johnson is out until Week 16 when the Eagles will face the New York Giants.
Via the Eagles, here is the statement from the NFL:
Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles has been suspended without pay for the team’s next 10 games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.
Johnson’s suspension begins immediately. He will be eligible to return to the Eagles’ active roster on Monday, December 19 following the team’s December 18 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
So how did we get to this point, and where will Johnson, and the Eagles, go from here? It’s… complicated.
Initial suspension and pre-appeal appeal
Back in August, Johnson was suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs, his second such suspension in just over three years in the NFL. This failed test, per the NFL’s collectively-bargained rules, triggered a 10-game ban.
Before appealing his suspension, Johnson and his representatives first tried to have the ruling thrown out entirely, claiming his initial sample triggered a false positive after taking what he said was an approved supplement.
Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer — who trained Johnson in the off-season at his MMA gym — reported the initial test was, per Johnson, flagged for peptides, which are amino acids that break down in a way similar to human growth hormone.
That, or Johnson took HGH, and this was his excuse to try to get out of it. We’ll never really know.
The appeal process
Last week, Johnson was in New York for the formal appeal. He talked about how that process went. He wasn’t thrilled.
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“It was eight hours of bickering back and forth and discussing league policy,” Johnson told reporters, via CSN Philly. “It just felt good going in there and taking it head-on. It was mainly just a conversation on the policy in place. It didn’t have to do with any substances, mainly just changing the testing procedures.”
In other words, he knew he had lost, it was just a matter of time before it became official.
The suspension upheld upon appeal(s)
We don’t know if Johnson ever thought his defense would actually work, but we do know that it didn’t, and Johnson’s suspension was initially upheld in late September. Then he appealed that ruling on the suspension — the process dragged along because they were first focused on challenging the actual result of the test, then the subsequent suspension — which was denied on Tuesday.
He’s out. It’s over. Ten games.
Or it’s not. (But yes, it is.)
His legal options are basically this: Take the suspension and go away for 10 weeks then come back and hope you still have a job this year. That’s his only available option.
The Eagles are ‘very disappointed’
“We’re very disappointed that Lane Johnson has been suspended 10 games,” GM Howie Roseman said in a statement distributed by the team. “His actions have affected the entire organization. We are all working under a clearly-defined set of rules and regulations set forth by the NFL in the collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA. Moving forward, he has no choice but to hold himself accountable to Jeffrey Lurie, Coach Pederson and his staff, his teammates, and to the entire organization and our fans. When he returns from suspension, we will continue to support him and welcome him back to the team. We are moving on with our preparations for this week’s game in Washington.”
In other words: Dude, you cannot screw up again.
What the timing means for the Eagles
In camp, Doug Pederson said he had a plan in place should Johnson miss the start of the season, but with the official word of the suspension not coming down until after Week 2, many expected Johnson to start serving his suspension in Week 3.
Given the timing of that ruling and subsequent appeal, however, Johnson was able to play in Week 3 and stay with the team through both the bye week and Week 5, where he started in the loss to the Detroit Lions.
The delay afforded Pederson the ability to change his initial plan. He had previously said he was going to move left guard Allen Barbre to right tackle, replacing him with rookie Isaac Seumalo or Stefen Wisniewski, a veteran backup the team signed in the off-season.
Now, with the benefit of five weeks to plan for Johnson’s absence, Pederson has reportedly opted to go with Halapoulivaati Vaitai at tackle in Johnson’s spot. This enables Barbre, who has played well at guard this season, to stay put.
Only the Eagles official depth chart says otherwise, as Barbre is currently listed in two positions. This seems like it would be hard for him to pull off, no matter how well he is playing.
What the timing means for Johnson
Johnson and his agent could not have played this any worse. By dragging the process out, he ensured his suspension will give him very little time to re-acclimate to the lineup for a potential playoff run, should the Eagles need him after 10 weeks off.
He is, when healthy and on the field, the team’s best offensive lineman, so chances are he will be back in the lineup as soon as he’s eligible. And yet, the week he’s able to come back is a short week, as the Eagles play on Thursday, December 22nd, just three days after Johnson will be re-instated.
If — yes, if — the Eagles are still in the playoff hunt, his return against the Giants and Cowboys will be huge, but with such a short week between the Ravens contest and Week 16’s game against the Giants, Pederson will have to see how quickly Johnson can get back up to game speed.
Moreover, the long-term concerns for Johnson are real, and they aren’t spectacular.
Now, that’s not to say Johnson is guaranteed to lose that money — he’s losing the bank he was slated to make during these 10 weeks, that’s for sure — but losing guaranteed money is the NFL is huge for a player with two suspensions under his belt, one away from missing two years of his career.
Johnson no longer has a safety net, or a nest egg. Still, as good as he is, it’s not like he will get cut, even if Big V proves to be a stud in the next two and a half months. He will likely earn that money, guarantee or not.
Big picture…is the sky falling or what?
This is not the disaster many thought it would be for Pederson back in August. Johnson is playing well and the team will suffer from his absence, but the line has been a positive unit for the Eagles so far this season, and losing one piece without reshuffling the other four could prove less detrimental than many expected.
Still, they better figure out some long-term solution quick. After Washington this week, the Eagles face the Vikings and their stout defense in two weeks. The Eagles should be able to withstand the loss of one of their best players, but it could get worse before it gets better.