PHILADELPHIA – Obviously, the Philadelphia Eagles would rather not have their starting right tackle suspended for the start of the 2014 season.
But if Lane Johnson had to be suspended for four games, things really couldn’t have gone much better for the Eagles than they have. The news was broken by the Philadelphia Daily News after Johnson and his teammates scattered at the end of June practices. By Wednesday afternoon, when the NFL finally announced the suspension, it felt like old news. Meanwhile, the news was made official two days before Johnson and his teammates report to training camp.
The Eagles couldn’t have minimized the distraction any more if they had control of the entire operation.
As for Johnson, he is out $116,000 – his salary for the four games he will miss. But that $12.8 million he received upon signing his rookie contract last year? That’s safely in the bank.
So except for a little embarrassment and annoyance at having to face some questions Friday, Johnson and the Eagles will emerge from this incident with minimal damage. As for the football issues raised, the Eagles seem pretty well prepared to deal with those, as well.
In early June, they handed backup lineman Allen Barbre a three-year contract extension. Barbre has started eight NFL games at right tackle, and he is the leading candidate to start in place of Johnson. He played well in spot duty at left tackle last season, so the Eagles feel pretty comfortable with Barbre. If someone – Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin, Michael Bamiro – outperforms Barbre in training camp, well, that’s just another positive development.
The biggest problem, really, is what happens if there are injuries along the line while Johnson is suspended. Barbre is the Eagles' primary backup at four of five spots, with center as the only exception.
If Jason Peters or one of the guards goes down, the Eagles will officially be in crisis mode. Considering all five linemen started all 17 games, including the playoff game, last year, that would represent a challenge for Chip Kelly and his staff.
Two years ago, only left guard Evan Mathis was able to play in all 16 games. Eight other players started games at the other four line positions. Peters missed the entire season. Center Jason Kelce played two games. Todd Herremans was available for only eight games.
The Eagles went 4-12 that season.
It’s a long way from having one player suspended for four games to that kind of chaos. But that chaos has to start with the loss of just one player. The Eagles are hoping that’s not what Johnson’s suspension turns out to be.