By Justin Sweitzer
The NFL’s decision to uphold the 10-game suspension of Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson will cast a shadow over the recent excitement in Philadelphia, as Johnson’s absence could bring a halt to the success the Eagles have found early in 2016.
Johnson’s second suspension of his NFL career came this past August when the offensive lineman violated the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Johnson is one of the most valuable players on head coach Doug Pederson’s team. The big man has incredible athleticism for his size and is crucial to the not only the success of the offense, but the health and durability of star quarterback, Carson Wentz.
Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai will fill in in Johnson’s place, marking the first time that the rookie will be on the active roster this season. A fifth round pick in this year’s draft, Vaitai is unproven in the NFL and his inexperience could cost the Eagles some games down the stretch.
Pederson says Vaitai is ready for NFL competition, and that his hard work put in during training camp and the regular season will prove to be enough to fill in for Johnson.
But as the Eagles ready themselves for some tough NFC East competition in the coming weeks, there is little room for error on the offensive line if a playoff berth is in sight.
With Johnson out, the surprisingly smooth opening to the Eagles season will likely hit some speed bumps. Wentz will find ways to adjust to an increase in pressure during the 10-game stretch without Johnson, but a quarterback can only do so much before starting to feel the effects of a less-than-perfect offensive line.
The inexperience at right tackle will undoubtedly cost the Eagles close games this season, and it may just be enough to eliminate the birds from playoff contention in 2016.