Lane Johnson’s health is more important than the Philadelphia Eagles’ record

Football has a way of setting priorities in conflict, and it did so again Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field, just before halftime of the Eagles’ 26-17 victory over the Cowboys. Lane Johnson walked off the field and into the locker room ahead of his teammates, and soon enough there was an announcement in the press box: Johnson had suffered a concussion and would not be returning to the game.

Not only did Johnson sit the entire second half Sunday, but coach Nick Siriani said Monday afternoon that there was no update on Johnson’s health or his potential availability for the Eagles’ next game, Oct. 30 against the Steelers. It’s no small matter, and it’s the delicate balance that coaches, players and organizations — and, yes, fans, too — must strike in sports. It is good to say that all these people should and do take brain injury seriously. But when someone like Johnson — the Eagles’ starting right tackle, one of their most important players, “the best [bleeping] tactic in the league,” according to Eagles starting left tackle Jordan Mailata — suffers such an injury and the timeline for his recovery is uncertain that seriousness and sincerity are truly put to the test.

“We need Lane because Lane Johnson is the best at his position in the NFL — in the world,” Siriani said. “If Lane is healthy, we’ll play Lane.”

» READ MORE: Lane Johnson’s mastery of film analyzed by Eagles O-line coach Jeff Stoutland

If Lane is healthy. Now that he’s in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Johnson won’t be able to play again until he passes a five-stage evaluation, going from basic aerobic exercise to full football activities without showing any post-concussion symptoms. It sounds plain and false. But as the Tua Tagovailoa fiasco recently showed, the process is often anything but.

This is Johnson’s third reported concussion in the past five years; he may have suffered others that went unnoticed. And despite that grueling medical history, he’s sure to feel some pressure — overt or unspoken, whether from his coaches and teammates or the public — to get back to playing as soon as possible. For a professional athlete who has spoken openly, honestly and courageously about his mental health issues, this pressure is likely to weigh more heavily on him than on any of his peers.

» READ MORE: Lane Johnson’s return to Eagles renews vital conversation about athlete mental health | Mike Cielski

The easy thing to do is frame Johnson’s injury strictly in terms of its effect on the Eagles and their situation. Based on anecdotal evidence from Sunday’s game alone, its effect will, unsurprisingly, appear to be profound. With Johnson in the game, the Eagles scored on their final four possessions of the first half and averaged more than 4½ yards per play. In the second half, with Jack Driscoll replacing Johnson, they mustered just six points and 95 yards of total offense. Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, who is second in the league in sacks with six, had three quarterback pressures Sunday, all after Johnson left.

“Lane is an indispensable guy,” center Jason Kelce said. “Especially with the end players that they have, to have a guy like Lane Johnson who is … I don’t want to blow it, but I don’t think we’re worried about him playing guard, to be honest. I think he’s the best right tackle, certainly the best pass-blocking right tackle, in the league for a while. He’s starting to get the credit he’s due. It’s a big advantage to drop in the middle of the game. … It’s definitely not perfect. He’s about as dominant a physical player as there is in this league.”

No, it’s not perfect. But in the NFL’s cold and sometimes cruel culture, the Eagles can afford to give Johnson as much time as he needs, even if those most concerned about the team’s win-loss record would like him to return as soon as possible, even if these people would be happy if he returned sooner than he should. The Eagles are 6-0. They are entering their bye week. They have as much or more talent and depth on the offensive line than any team in the league. Do those factors allow them to weather his potential absence better than another team could if they lost one of their top players? Do these factors allow him to take the time to come back to make sure he’s fully prepared? They make. They have to.

“Jack Driscoll gave us some really good minutes [Sunday], and we were confident about that,” Siriani said late Sunday night. “We talked about it a little bit, but we were very confident that we would be able to pull it off because Jack had done it in the past.”

» READ MORE: Protect Tom Brady? Preventing CTE? Ahead of the Cowboys’ big game, the Eagles are worried the NFL will slack off.

That’s the hope for the Eagles, and that’s the sensible, humane approach to dealing with this situation. There may be more at stake for Lane Johnson than another Super Bowl ring, and the last thing the Eagles, anyone else or even Johnson himself should be doing is worrying if a collision in the final seconds of the first half Sunday jeopardized a championship shot. If Lane is healthy. You wait until he is, if he is, and not a second before then.

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