The long-term plan has always been for Johnson to move to left tackle when Jason Peters is done. Peters, 34, is playing well below his traditional dominant level this season and has an $11.2 million cap charge in 2017. But Johnson, 26, has violated the league's drug policy, inadvertently or not, twice in three seasons. The next failed test would bring at least a two-year ban, which would pretty much be a career-ender. Johnson acknowledged this during the preseason, saying he feels he can't take any sort of supplements now, the risk is too great.
Given that two strikes are now in Johnson's ledger, how solid is the Eagles' Johnson-to-left-tackle plan? Don't they really have to weigh that, looking toward the 2017 draft? And if they have to take a tackle high, how much does that set back the process of assembling better weapons around Wentz, or coming up with a real shutdown cornerback for the defense?
The original plan was to have left guard Allen Barbre move to right tackle and have Stefen Wisniewski take his spot if this situation arose, but the Eagles have since had a change of heart. They now intend to have rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai man the right tackle position in Johnson's absence.
The thinking goes like this: Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and the rest of the coaching staff has been impressed with Vaitai (6-foot-6, 315), a fifth-round pick out of TCU, and believe that moving Barbre would only further disrupt O-line chemistry.
Still, there is a leap of faith involved here, with the coaches only having practice and preseason tape to go off with Vaitai, who is now charged with protecting rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.
Johnson's suspension puts Vaitai on spot - Inquirer
For Johnson, there are no silver linings, and only the playbook he will take home as he serves out his 10-game suspension away from the Eagles. The 26-year-old offensive lineman will not only miss a significant chunk of time in his prime years, but he will forfeit approximately $3.6 million - possibly more - and is now one more violation from facing at least a two-year NFL ban.
The Eagles will forge on, of course. One player does not a 53-man roster make. But Johnson has arguably become the team's best offensive lineman, and after he signed a five-year, $56.25 million contract extension in January, he was its anchor for the future and the likely heir to left tackle Jason Peters.
Season-Altering Challenge For O-Line - PhiladelphiaEagles.com
When the Eagles selected Vaitai in the draft, Howie Roseman said, "Big V has tremendous size and length. He's got all the tools."
Are those tools sharp enough for regular season duty? Right now? At Washington?
This isn't catching the Eagles by surprise, so they've thought of the possibilities for at least a few weeks. They've pushed Vaitai. They've tested him. They've evaluated him. It's impossible, though, to duplicate the speed of a regular season game in a practice setting, so there is going to be an adjustment period. If the Eagles go the Vaitai route, let's hope the learning curve lasts only a matter of days, because the speed and the experience and the savvy of Ryan Kerrigan awaits, followed by the jet-speed get-off of the Minnesota edge rushers a week after that.
It is a test for Stoutland and the coaching staff, and the impact of losing Johnson is going to be felt throughout the offense. How does it affect quarterback Carson Wentz and the way the protection is adjusted if Big V is on the right side? How much would the Eagles use tight end Brent Celek as a straight-up blocker to help Vaitai? The Eagles also can use a running back to chip and help Vaitai, if needed.