Ford: Should Lane Johnson protect Bradford or Wentz?

Doug Pederson said Tuesday that if Lane Johnson is ready to go - which in this case means, "if he isn't serving a 10-game suspension" - Johnson will be the Eagles starting right tackle when the regular season begins against Cleveland in less than two weeks.

Barring some kind of procedural mishap in the testing process, and none has been claimed by Johnson or his representatives, then Johnson will miss the games at some point this season because he tested positive for a banned substance, his second such transgression. That suspension might not be in effect at the start of the season, however, so Pederson is preparing for either situation.

A far more interesting question than whether Johnson will eventually be suspended - he will - is when exactly the Eagles would rather he serve his time. They can't control any part of the process right now, but once the NFL confirms that the B sample from Johnson's drug test matches the A sample, the team might certainly have a preference regarding whether Johnson should appeal the suspension.

This is a tricky bit of business and, if it were to happen, it would never be hinted at publicly. The NFLPA would not look kindly on a team that tried to influence or pressure one of its union members in any way regarding an appeal. The players obviously have the right to make their own decisions on that. Still, it's interesting.

Let's use the hypothetical of a team that has a veteran quarterback who will start the season, but also has a rookie quarterback, considered the very future of the franchise, who just might be playing by the end of the season. Contractually, it seems very unlikely the veteran will return the following year and, since the team is not expected to contend immediately, there is a good chance the rookie will get an opportunity to develop once that expectation is proved to be correct.

Now, that's all a hypothetical, because no team would actually get itself into the position of having a highly-paid lame duck quarterback in a transition season, but let's all pretend that could really happen.

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If that hypothetical team had a dependable offensive tackle, but he was going to serve a 10-game suspension, which quarterback would the team rather he be around to protect? The short-term veteran or the future of the franchise?

Lane Johnson, barring injury, is going to play six games this season. If he appeals the suspension in order to get his version of the facts on the record, the process could last into the regular season, perhaps for a number of weeks. Appeals can be decided quickly, or they can drag on. There isn't a way to predict how his would go. If he does not appeal the suspension, his ban would most likely begin with the first game, and he would be eligible to return Nov. 28 against the Green Bay Packers and also be in uniform as the Eagles close the season against the Bengals, Redskins, Ravens, Giants and Cowboys.

So, if Lane Johnson, who royally messed up here, felt bad enough to ask the team whether he should appeal, what would the answer be?

It's a good question. The coaching staff and front office might think Sam Bradford should be given every chance to get the team off to a strong start. He would have a better shot at that with Johnson on one end of an otherwise wobbly offensive line. Giving that answer would require thinking the team can be competitive right away, however. That could be the case, but there's no way of knowing the actual organizational confidence level.

The answer, for a number of reasons, is that it makes the most sense for the Eagles to have Johnson forget an appeal and serve the suspension immediately. It makes the most sense because if Bradford does somehow keep the team in contention, those last six games would be vital for making the playoffs. It also makes the most sense if things go the other way and Carson Wentz becomes the starting quarterback somewhere around, say, Nov. 28.

That might not make the most sense for Johnson, though, and it is his suspension and his right to appeal it. Ultimately, he will be the one making the decision. Still, it would be nice to know if an organization that claims to be firmly committed to both the present and the future - but with two different quarterbacks - even believes that itself.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports