Lane Johnson won’t be the Philadelphia Eagles’ left tackle any time soon.
Sure, Dillard could be a bust, Jason Kelce is eventually going to retire, and Issac Seumalo’s long-term role is far from defined, but by locking up a highly touted, 24-year-old left tackle on a five-year rookie contract – especially one as idiosyncratic as Dillard – Howie Roseman has made his intentions clear for Lane Johnson moving forward: He will remain the Eagles’ right tackle indefinitely.
Now to be fair, this isn’t a new development. Johnson has played right tackle exclusively since being drafted fourth overall in 2013 but that had more to do with the presence of Jason Peters on the left side than any deficiencies in the ex-Oklahoma Sooners’ game. Au contraire, Johnson is practically the prototype of what teams want in a modern-day left tackle. Measuring in at 6-foot-6, 317 pounds, Johnson has a wide frame, smooth hips, and the athletic build of a big-bodied tight end. Johnson is also fast, like really, really fast. His 4.72 40 yard dash is the second-fastest time by any lineman since the NFL combine started in 1982, .01 seconds slower than oft-injured New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstrong.
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Heck, Mike Mayock called Johnson ‘the freakiest tackle I’ve ever seen in my life’
After missing 10 games in 2016 due to a PED violation, Johnson has been arguably the best overall right tackle in the NFL and outpaced an aging Peters as the best tackle on the Eagle’s roster. Once the nine-time Pro Bowler finally decided to hang up his cleats – an outcome that still hasn’t happened and frankly may never – many assumed Johnson would kick over to the left side and replace one potential Hall of Famer with another, right?
I mean Roseman and the Eagles’ front office gave Johnson a five-year, $63 million extension in 2016 for a reason: He was the future at left tackle.
However, that didn’t really happen. When Peters went down in 2017, it was Halapoulivaati Vaitai who took over on the left side down the stretch all the way to the Super Bowl. While some argued at the time that keeping Johnson on the right side maintains more continuity than disrupting two positions over one, Vaitai had a few rough outings before steadying out from December on.
Peters appeared in all 16 games for the Eagles in 2018, but when he did leave games for a series or two due to injury or fatigue it was again Vaitai who kicked over to protect Carson Wentz and/or Nick Foles’ blindside.
Now clearly the Eagles didn’t view Vaitai as their left – or right – tackle of the future, as they allowed him to walk in free agency this March, but by drafting Dillard they’ve effectively decided that Johnson is better kept on the right side, forming the best one-two tandem in the league alongside fellow three-time Pro Bowler Brandon Brooks.
But, like, why though? Why commit a first-round pick to a left tackle like Dillard when the team already had a potential top-tier tackle on their roster in Johnson. Surely the Birds could have drafted a premier right tackle in the 2019 NFL Draft in the second or third round, a player like Chuma Edoga, and used their first-round pick on a more pressing need, like, say, Hollywood Brown, the very player the Baltimore Ravens used their pick to draft.
Or better yet, why not just keep it going with Peters on the left and Johnson on the right going into the 2020 NFL calendar year and select a developmental tackle in the draft like Josh Jones,
Jack Driscoll or Prince Tega Wanogho – the latter two the Eagles actually drafted in the fourth and sixth round respectively.
For what it’s worth, maybe the Eagles really did believe Dillard has everything it takes to be a starting left tackle for a long, long time. Maybe they had him ranked in the top-10 and when he fell all the way to 22 the value was just too good to pass up?
Whatever the reason, the Philadelphia Eagles are now married to Andre Dillard as their left tackle of the future for the foreseeable future. While this move may or may not work, it effectively ends any chance of Lane Johnson kicking across the line to play left tackle moving forward. Maybe there’s a bigger plan behind this decision. Maybe the Eagles simply think having the best right tackle-guard tandem in the NFL is more valuable than disrupting continuity across the line? Hopefully, that’s the case, because right now, the decision feels rather confusing.