PHILADELPHIA -- Lane Johnson recognizes the situation. His left leg is damaged. His ankle bothers him even more than the sprained ligament in his knee.
“We’re 1-3 right now,” Johnson said. “We don’t have nobody else. It’s either step up or sit down. I’m going to go until I can’t.”
Johnson embodies the situation the Eagles’ offensive line finds itself in. It is bad luck, or the percentages, that Johnson, left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Allen Barbre are banged up. Starting right guard Andrew Gardner is already on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
But there is some poor planning involved here, too. Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, is the last offensive lineman drafted by Chip Kelly and the Eagles. The team just hasn’t used its resources – draft picks, salary-cap space – to bolster the offensive line.
Look at the rest of the linemen on the roster. Two (Matt Tobin and Josh Andrews) were undrafted free agents. Two (Barbre and Gardner) were low-level free agents who were let go by multiple teams. Peters was a significant free agent signing back in 2009, but he was an undrafted free agent originally signed by Buffalo.
Compare the Eagles’ approach to building their line to the other teams in the NFC East.
Dallas has a much heralded offensive line. That’s no accident. The Cowboys used first-round picks in 2011 (left tackle Tyron Smith), 2013 (center Travis Frederick) and 2014 (guard Zack Martin) on offensive linemen. One starter, guard Ronald Leary, was an undrafted free agent.
The New York Giants have also used recent drafts to build their line. Their left tackle is rookie Ereck Flowers, a first-round pick in the 2015 draft. Left guard Justin Pugh was a first-round pick in 2013. Center Weston Richburg was a second-round pick in 2014. The starting five is rounded out by a couple of smart acquisitions: right tackle Marshall Newhouse was a fifth-round pick by Green Bay in 2010 while right guard Geoff Schwartz was Carolina’s seventh-round pick in 2008.
Washington has first-round picks at left tackle (Trent Williams, 2009) and left guard (Brandon Scherff, 2015). There are two third-round picks from the 2014 draft, Spencer Long and Morgan Moses, in the starting lineup. Center Kory Lichtensteiger was Denver’s fourth-round pick in 2008.
In 2014, while Washington was taking Long and Moses in the third round, the Eagles drafted wide receiver Josh Huff.
Ultimately, three of the NFC East teams have invested a total of seven recent first-round picks in offensive linemen. They have added three second- or third-round picks.
The Eagles have only Johnson to show for their first three draft rounds. They have stocked their offensive line with late-round draft picks and undrafted players.
And that’s why Johnson, with his knee and ankle bothering him, feels obligated to take some painkillers and gut it out on Sunday.