December 20, 2016
After serving his 10 game suspension for a second positive PED test, Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is back at the NovaCare Complex with his teammates preparing for Thursday night's game against the New York Giants.
Following Tuesday's practice, Johnson spoke publicly for the first time since his appeal was upheld and his suspension began –' he last played in the Eagles' Week 5 loss to the Detroit Lions.
In the two and a half months since, the former fourth-overall pick out of Oklahoma could only watch as his team went 2-8, his offense, which once led the league in scoring, struggled mightily, and his rookie quarterback got hit over and over (and over) again.
"I didn’t like it. I can tell you that much," Johnson said. "It was a sh**ty situation. You can put that on record. It sucked. From now on, no more strikes or I’m out. I know what’s at stake. I think this will bring the best out of me as a player and hopefully as a person."
He'd better be careful, and not just because he's got a lot of money on the line or because he's penciled in as the successor to perennial Pro-Bowler Jason Peters at the all-important left tackle position.
Johnson had better be careful because if he tests positive again, he's out of a job for two-plus years – and who knows how long beyond that if teams are hesitant to sign a guy with that kind of track record.
“This is hard. I don’t care who believes it or not," Johnson said. "Words can’t express anything. I’m just going to have to show by action. Over the next few years, less talk and more action. I don’t put the blame on others. I’m on a lot of people’s sh*t list, but I got a few people on my sh*t list as well.”
Hopefully, some of those people on his sh*t list play on the New York Giants defensive line.
Carson Wentz was sacked twice when the Eagles visited MetLife in Week 9 – he was sacked 24 times overall during the 10-game ban, up nearly a half sack per game from the first month of the season – and with Johnson expected to start on Thursday night, there's a chance Doug Pederson has his entire starting offensive line on the field together for the first time in a while, although that will depend on the health of left guard Allen Barbre.
“I feel like we had momentum whenever I left, I feel like we should have been 4-0 after the Detroit game. It sucks the way it is. It's all on me. All I can do is go play. I can talk all day about it, but it's really going to be showing and proving that through the rest of my contract."
Unfortunately, it's too little, too late. The Eagles were officially eliminated from the postseason on Sunday. Perhaps that wouldn't have been the case if Johnson were able to play.
"I feel like I let the team down,” said Johnson, adding that this Eagles season “could’ve been a lot different” had he not been suspended. “I feel like we had momentum whenever I left, I feel like we should have been 4-0 after the Detroit game. It sucks the way it is. It's all on me. All I can do is go play. I can talk all day about it, but it's really going to be showing and proving that through the rest of my contract."
With not a whole lot to play for, Johnson's return solely serves as an opportunity for the Eagles to regain the continuity they had up front in the beginning of the season.
In his absence, rookie fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai started six games at right tackle. But when he went down with a knee injury, they moved veteran Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle until he was injured a few weeks later and replaced by another rookie, third-rounder Isaac Seumalo.
All things considered -- and after some early hiccups -- the kids held their own. But Johnson is confident he won't have any trouble showing why he was the starter in the first place.
"I still feel I'm one of the best right tackles in the league if not the best right tackle there is," Johnson added. "Having said that, I still have got a lot to prove and I want to keep proving that every game I'm out there."
Last month, Johnson filed unfair labor practice charges against the NFL and NFLPA, largely due to the delays between when the test was done, when the results were known, when the team was informed, and when he was actually allowed to appeal his suspension.
Furthermore, the suspension voided the $35.5 million of guaranteed money that came along with the contract extension he signed last offseason. He can still earn that money, but it's no longer guaranteed. That's in addition to the weekly checks Johnson had to forfeit during his time off.
“I just wish the [suspension and appeals] process would come sooner, not take so long and not be so dragged out,” Johnson said Tuesday. “The next CBA, I think there will be a lot of things changed. You see a lot of voices like Richard Sherman with disapproval about how things go on. So I think a lot of things will change come 2020.”
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin