THE EAGLES are 2-6 during the first eight weeks of Lane Johnson's 10-game suspension, and Johnson said he feels awful about it.
"Yes," Johnson said in a text to the Daily News, when asked whether he feels he bears blame for the team's struggles. This was his second violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing substance rules, the first having mandated a four-game suspension in 2014.
"I've let this whole organization down not once, but twice, and I've had a long time to ponder on it and look myself in the mirror."
Johnson, a right tackle who was drafted fourth overall in 2013 out of Oklahoma, was the Eagles' most effective offensive lineman before the suspension, which began Oct.16 against Sunday's opponent, the Washington Redskins.
Johnson, who has spent the suspension in Oklahoma, said he plans to return to Philadelphia on Wednesday or Thursday of next week. He can't come back to NovaCare until Dec. 19, the day after the Eagles visit the Ravens. They will have a short week, with a Dec.22 Thursday night home game against the Giants. Coach Doug Pederson said this week he hasn't decided how to handle that.
Johnson has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the league and the players' union, and a Department of Labor complaint against the union, over protocols mandated in the collective bargaining agreement he thinks were not followed.
If Johnson tests positive again, he will be suspended for at least two years. That's a huge weight to have hanging over a player's head, and a probable reason for the legal fight, along with the possibility of restoring guarantees on millions of dollars, in a contract running through 2021 that no longer carries guarantees, thanks to the suspension, should the team ever want to sever ties.
"I think I'm at a point in my career," Johnson said, "where I need to take my job seriously, and be the best tackle I can be, and that starts with being more responsible and less reckless."
Johnson said he is in good shape, at 320 pounds.
He said he was impressed by the play of rookie tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who started the first six games of Johnson's suspension. Vaitai suffered an MCL sprain at Seattle that has kept him out of the last two games and will keep him from playing Sunday. Left guard Allen Barbre is now starting at right tackle.
"Big V has gotten better and better. I think he will settle in nice in the future," Johnson said. The team's long-term plan would seem to be for Johnson to replace left tackle Jason Peters, who will turn 35 in January, with Vaitai replacing Johnson. That might not happen as soon as 2017, though.