Lost in last week’s news of the Ray Rice suspension was the news of the Lane Johnson suspension. The fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft will miss twice as many games for Rice because, according to the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, he took a prescription medication that he didn’t realize appears on the NFL’s list of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Based on those facts — accidentally taking a prescription medication versus knocking out a female in a casino elevator — it seems like an unfair result. But Johnson can say whatever he wants about how the violation arose, and there’s nothing the league can do about it under the current drug policies.
“As a professional, you’re supposed to be aware of what you put in your body and take precautions,” Johnson said upon arriving at camp, via Zach Berman of the Philadelphia News. “That’s something I didn’t do, and now I pay the price.”
The league’s strict-liability, no-questions-asked PED policy creates an environment in which innocent, unintended violations trigger automatic suspensions. Which has created a P.R. safe harbor for cheaters. Apparently, the policy never actually ensnares a deliberate cheat; everyone popped for a four-game ban has an excuse that looks good on the surface — especially if the players refuses to go beneath the surface with his explanation.
In Johnson’s case, he declined to discuss the prescription medication he took, or the condition for which it was prescribed. Which causes some to think there wasn’t one.
Regardless, coach Chip Kelly has moved Johnson to the second team for the start of training camp, since the team has to prepare Allen Barbre to handle the job while Johnson is away.
“We still have to develop Lane,” Kelly told reporters on Saturday. “So he’ll get reps, but they won’t be with the first team right now.”
Some of that may be punitive, based on Kelly’s views regarding the manner in which the violation arose.
“There’s also some individual responsibility that goes with the player,” Kelly said regarding the question of whether the Eagles failed to properly oversee Johnson’s activities. “So, you know, if the answer is, I didn’t know. They know. They get tested at the Combine. They get tested anywhere. Any one of these guys that comes from an NCAA institution knows they get tested. They’re also their own men. It’s no different than if you got pulled over for a DUI, you’re going to turn around and tell your employers, I didn’t know I couldn’t do that. They’re adults. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to pay a hefty price for those mistakes. They’re going to miss four games, four game checks. Hopefully that works.”
For Johnson, who coincidentally (or not) gained nine pounds in the offseason, the message apparently has been sent from the league. If Barbre plays well during Johnson’s four game absence, Kelly may decide to keep sending the message beyond Week Four to the guy who started 16 games as a rookie.