Dig through the ditches, and burn through the witches. That’s one way to describe Lane Johnson’s formative years.
The Eagles starting right tackle took up a summer job as a gravedigger in his hometown of Groveton, Texas. It wasn’t glamorous, and the gig only paid minimum wage, but working in the graveyard certainly built the foundation for hard work and never taking anything for granted. Perhaps the experience was the inspiration behind his “pave the lane” philosophy.
“There’s nothing more humbling than [digging graves],” Johnson told Mike Kaye of NJ Advance Media. “It’s not fun at all, but at the same time, it was a job for me, and I enjoyed it.”
Johnson, who weighed just 205 pounds in high school (compared to his current 310 pounds), recalled “chipping away at bedrock” for hours at a time on hot, hazy summer days in Texas. It was grueling work that tested his endurance.
“It would wear your ass out,” Johnson told Kaye. “It was tough as shit.”
Johnson’s Contract Raised Bar for Tackles
When the Eagles locked up Lane Johnson to a four-year contract extension last November, it had wide-ranging implications on the rest of the league. The $72 million deal, including almost $55 million guaranteed, made the 29-year-old the highest paid player at his position.
In doing so, the Eagles secured their future on the right side of the offensive line. They doubled down on that long-term commitment by inking right guard Brandon Brooks to an equally lucrative contract around the same time.
But they also raised the bar for everyone else. The Titans’ Jack Conklin is a free agent and early indications are he’ll be commanding about $18 million per year. That figure would put him in line with Johnson, a figure another team may be all too willing to surpass if Tennessee finds it too deep for their pockets.
Conklin, already being linked to the Jets in free agency, is only 25 and widely considered among the top 10 — maybe top 5, depending on whom you talk to — at right tackle.
Offensive Line at Premium in NFL
The Eagles have been fortunate over the years to possess great depth along the offensive line. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been a godsend for his ability to seamlessly play any position, guard or tackle, and excel at it.
Remember, Vaitai started at left tackle for an injured Jason Peters in the Super Bowl and filled in for long stretches in 2019 when Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks were out.
That versatility makes Vaitai a prized free agent at a position of need who looks unlikely to return to Philadelphia. He’ll turn 27 in June and surely will have a ton of suitors lining up for his services. Per Adam Caplan, Vaitai is pursuing a starting job on another team. The loss of Vaitai could turn out to be one of the most underrated and overlooked moves of the offseason for the Eagles.