LANE JOHNSON'S appeal of his 10-game NFL suspension for ingesting a performance-enhancing substance lasted nearly 8 hours Tuesday at the NFL offices in New York. Attorney Steve Zashin said the Eagles' right tackle will play this weekend at Detroit, as expected, before a decision is announced, typically in a week to 10 days.
"There are a number of issues relative to Lane's appeal," Zashin said in a prepared statement. "Many of those issues strike at the heart of substantive player protection. We await the decision of the arbitrator. In the meantime, Lane will prepare and play as scheduled."
Zashin, a Wharton grad who practices labor law in Cleveland, declined to discuss any of the issues raised. Johnson and agent Ken Sarnoff declined comment.
The Eagles practiced Monday with Johnson in his customary spot. They resume practice Wednesday. Their stated plan is to move left guard Allen Barbre to right tackle and bring Stefen Wisniewski off the bench to play left guard, though ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the team might keep Barbre at left guard and start fifth-round rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai for Johnson. That possibility has not been mentioned by Eagles coach Doug Pederson.
Johnson, 26, disclosed in August that he had tested positive for banned peptides, the test occurring in early June. Johnson said he ingested an amino acid supplement whose listed ingredients he cleared through a smartphone app provided by the NFLPA. The NFL, however, makes it clear that players are responsible for what they ingest, regardless of what might be listed on the label, and the union warns players about this. The union also tests supplements if players ask.
Johnson's suspension is so severe because he is a second-time offender, having been suspended four games in 2014 for what he said was Adderall.
Under the NFL's drug policy, the arbitrator must either uphold or vacate Johnson's suspension. The arbitrator is not free to reduce it; that would have to happen in a meeting between the league and the union before the arbitrator's decision is announced - as in the case of Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, who recently got a suspension reduced from four to three games.
What grounds could Johnson be using for his appeal? Maybe that the two failed tests weren't really for the same thing, though Adderall, as a stimulant, is considered performance-enhancing.
At the time he made his plight public, Johnson felt it was unfair that the league doesn't maintain an official list of approved substances, and that the union promoted the app, which is no guarantee against a failed test. "The players have no rights," he said in August.
If Zashin's reference to "substantive player protection" is a critique of those kinds of issues, it's hard to envision it being successful; the drug policy was collectively bargained, and there was plenty of time to hash out relevant details. The players' association has not publicly embraced Johnson's fight - in fact, it reacted viscerally to his blaming of the app for leading him astray.
It seems likely that within a few weeks, the Eagles will face life without Johnson, for virtually the remainder of the regular season. If his suspension is upheld and takes effect next week, before the Eagles visit Washington, Johnson would not be eligible to return until the next-to-last game, Dec. 22 against the visiting Giants. He would have no access to the team facility or direct contact with coaches during that time. It's hard to imagine he could jump back in without missing a step.
Johnson, the fourth player selected in the 2013 draft, has been the Eagles' most dominant offensive lineman this season. He is expected to slide over to left tackle when the team moves on from 34-year-old Jason Peters, quite possibly at the end of this season - though the suspension might complicate that.