Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson will miss the rest of the season because his left ankle requires a second surgery.
Johnson, a three-time Pro Bowler since he was picked fourth overall in the 2013 draft, has dealt with the nagging ankle injury since the beginning of training camp. He had surgery in August, but multiple complications have surfaced and Johnson said the inside of his ankle is “a mess.”
“It’s something I knew I would struggle with throughout the year. It’s just something that continually hasn’t improved much,” Johnson said. “From the outlook of my season, it’s done.”
Johnson, 30, said he’s looking at a four-to-five-month recovery from the second surgery, which hasn’t been scheduled yet. He has missed three games and been sidelined for parts of five others as he tried to manage the pain and swelling in the ankle.
If Johnson continued to play, he’d risk damaging his cartilage, which would lead to arthritis in the joint, according to a medical source contacted by The Inquirer.
Asked if this would be a lingering injury for the remainder of his career, Johnson said he’s not sure, but he pointed to right guard Brandon Brooks’ success returning from his right Achilles tear at the end of the 2018 season as a reason for optimism.
“It is a big question,” Johnson said. “I could tell you more come June or July, when you’re ramping up. My goal is to put this behind to where it’s nothing I have to think about. I don’t want to be thinking about it – for games or during the week if I can practice – how I’m feeling. I’ve seen guys come back from far worse. You’ve seen Brooks come back from tearing an Achilles. He was the best guard in the league the next year.”
The Eagles gave Johnson a record-setting, four-year, $72 million contract extension last season, reflective of his elite play at right tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has been the team’s best offensive lineman this season even while dealing with the injury.
Johnson said it’s been a frustrating year because he’s tried to play to his standard while dealing with the injured ankle and even missing some time with a knee injury.
“It’s the [in]ability to stay healthy that’s more frustrating,” Johnson said. “You get paid a contract to play like one of the best tackles in the league and go out there and you can’t finish games and you’re not out there. ... People deal with injuries. It’s just a matter of recovering from this and then coming back fully healthy, play a season, don’t worry about it, and get back to functioning normally.”
Johnson said he believes Matt Pryor will be the new starter at right tackle. Pryor has primarily played guard this season, but he got tackle reps during training camp and has come in at right tackle in two games this season. Rookie Jack Driscoll has also been used as Johnson’s backup, but the fourth-round pick out of Auburn is dealing with a knee injury.
The Eagles ended last season with arguably the best offensive-line tandem in the NFL with Johnson and Brooks. Brooks, who tore his left Achilles in the offseason, was ranked the best offensive lineman in the NFL in 2019. Johnson was ranked fourth and Jason Kelce was the highest-rated center and 12th overall.
It’s tough to overstate how much the team misses the elite play from its offensive line during this underwhelming season. Carson Wentz has been sacked an NFL-leading 40 times, although part of the problem is Wentz’s tendency to hold the ball too long.
The news of Johnson’s season ending came on the same day it was reported that Jordan Mailata would take over at left tackle, with Jason Peters moving to right guard. It will be the 10th iteration of the team’s offensive line in 11 games, which means offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will continue working overtime to prepare inexperienced players at new positions.
“It’s been an awkward year,” Johnson said. “We line up in the beginning of the year and have what you think is going to be that the rest of the year. Isaac [Seumalo. left guard] ends up tearing his MCL Week 2, then in and out with different players. It’s why Coach Stoutland takes everything so seriously, I guess, with how we do things around here, practicing, meetings. He tries to prepare all these young guys to be starters, so nobody’s really an exception, nobody’s different.”