To no surprise, the NFL and the NFL Players Association have no comment on the federal lawsuit filed by Eagles tackle Lane Johnson. However, both eventually will have plenty to say.
Once they are served with the appropriate paperwork, the clock will tick on their deadline for responding. While the process may begin with technical issues (like an effort to transfer the case to a different federal district) or an attack on the overall complaint as being deficient without ever addressing the merits of the allegations, chances are that, eventually, the NFL and NFLPA will provide something substantive and meaningful to defend themselves against an attack not on whether Johnson tested positive but on various aspects of the procedures involved.
And here’s where it will eventually get interesting. Although Johnson made no mention of the substance for which he tested positive in his lawsuit (the arbitration award attached as an exhibit to the complaint removed all references to the basis for the positive test), at some point that information may come out — along with other facts that would be potentially embarrassing to Johnson.
When representing companies sued by current or former employees, Page One of the Defense Lawyer Playbook consists of making the plaintiff look as bad as possible and to make the process as unpleasant as possible, in large part as a deterrence to others who may be inclined to pursue litigation in the future. The NFL and NFLPA surely will try to find legitimate ways to introduce into the litigation facts that will embarrass Johnson. No matter how hard his lawyers try to argue that, for example, what he tested positive is irrelevant to his actual claims of a defective process, an effort to make Johnson regret filing suit by wedging that information into the public record likely will occur.
If successful, it could result in an expansion of the lawsuit to include a claim of retaliation against Johnson, but those claims are hard to prove when based on statements made and conduct occurring under the umbrella of litigation. Put simply, Johnson has flicked the first domino, and he’ll have little control over where and how the rest of them fall.
If the NFL and NFLPA behave like other organizations that have found themselves on the wrong side of a lawsuit that they surely believe is frivolous, there’s a good chance that one or both will try to engineer the cascading rectangles in a way that makes Johnson eventually mutter to himself, “Why did I pick this fight?”