Talk about too, little too late.
Lane Johnson is due back in two weeks, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Wednesday for the first time seemed to indicate that he’s leaning toward getting Johnson back at right tackle as soon as he returns.
Johnson, the Eagles’ best offensive lineman the first month of the season, was suspended by the NFL for 10 games for a second positive test for a banned substance. By the time his appeal was heard and rejected, it was after the Eagles’ loss to the Lions.
Johnson hasn’t played since.
The Eagles face the Redskins at the Linc and Ravens in Baltimore the next two Sundays. Johnson is eligible to return to the NovaCare Complex the day after the Ravens' game, which would be Monday, Dec. 19.
The Eagles then face the Giants three days later on a Thursday night at the Linc and finish the season on Jan. 1 at home against the Cowboys in a game that will likely have no meaning for either team.
Previously, when asked about Johnson, Pederson was non-commital about playing him. But on Wednesday, he seemed to indicate he would move him back to right tackle for the Giants' game.
“Listen, he was a big part of our success early in the season,” Pederson said. “So I wouldn’t hesitate to put him back out there.”
The Eagles, 5-7 after a 3-0 start, are on the brink of playoff elimination and could well be eliminated by the time Johnson returns.
Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the first six games after Johnson’s suspension before getting hurt. Left guard Allen Barbre started the last two, with Stefen Wisniewski moving into left guard.
Even though Pederson indicated Johnson would return to right tackle as soon as he gets back, he did qualify the statement.
“He comes back on a short week, too, against the Giants, in a couple weeks,” he said. “Got to see where Big V is at coming off an injury and see where that’s at.
“We’re beginning the conversations right now. When he does return, we’ll have to see. We still have some games. Have to get through these two games.”
Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, started 44 of a possible 48 games his first three seasons, missing only four in 2014 during his first NFL suspension.
After the Lions game, he said he hoped the Eagles had meaningful games remaining when he got back.
The Eagles are 3-1 this year with Johnson and 2-6 without him. In his four NFL seasons, the Eagles are 27-22 when he plays.
“Stay in shape and hopefully the team is good enough to stay in playoff contention,” he said in the visiting locker room at Ford Field back on Oct. 9.
“Come back and I’ll be fresh and we can make a run for it. That’s the best-case scenario. We’ll see what happens.”