Mutual Interest Between Chargers, Lions’ Ben Johnson For HC?

DECEMBER 5: While Johnson is sure to have several suitors during the 2024 hiring cycle, Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post notes his preferred destination would be the Chargers. It remains to be seen if Los Angeles’ offseason evaluation of the coaching and front office staffs will produce a change, but in the event it does there will apparently be mutual interest between team and candidate in this case.

NOVEMBER 28: The Lions’ continued ascent under Dan Campbell stands to make his coordinators high-end HC candidates in 2024. While Aaron Glenn figures to generate additional interest, Ben Johnson will be a sure bet to land multiple interviews.

One of those requests may come from the Chargers, who have yet to make a decision on Brandon Staley. But with the defense-minded HC looking likely to be fired after this season, The Athletic’s Joe Person notes many in league circles expect the Chargers to have Johnson atop their wish list in 2024 (subscription required).

Regardless of the Bolts’ potential vacancy, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer offers that Johnson will be the top offense-oriented coach on the market. Considering where NFL hiring has landed over the past several offseasons, that may well make him the top candidate available. This is obviously before we know if Bill Belichick will become a coaching free agent or if the iconic New England sideline presence will be a trade option for teams. But Johnson may end up receiving multiple offers this time around.

Johnson, 37, jumped off the 2023 coaching carousel early, opting to remain with the Lions for a second season as OC. The Panthers were interested in the North Carolina native — to the point David Tepper had him positioned as the team’s top candidate early in the run. Johnson was not interested in that job, and although the Panthers are again believed to be eyeing a coach with an offensive background (even after the historically quick Frank Reich firing), it is difficult to believe Johnson would be overly interested this time around. With Tepper having canned a third coach in-season since 2019, his reputation continues to plummet. The Panthers are 30-63 since Tepper bought the team in 2018.

The Chargers have enjoyed more success than the Panthers in that span, but they have also developed an earned reputation for squandering opportunities. Staley has presided over the latest round of those, and his tenure will likely be best remembered for the 27-point collapse in last year’s wild-card round. Barring a dramatic late-season turnaround, the Bolts should be expected to move on from the first-time HC. The Chargers have not fired a coach in-season since Kevin Gilbride in 1998, making it more likely than not Staley stays on to close out his third campaign. The Bolts sit 4-7 after three consecutive losses, one of which coming against the Lions.

While Staley’s defenses have underwhelmed, as injuries continue to affect the unit, the AFC’s Los Angeles job will be attractive due to Justin Herbert‘s presence. Herbert will likely be the best quarterback attached to a coaching vacancy in 2024. At 25 and signed to an extension that runs through 2029, the Pro Bowl quarterback will be a key variable on the 2024 coaching carousel.

L.A.’s current play-caller, Kellen Moore, has more experience running an offense than Johnson, who is in his second season calling plays. But Johnson has done plenty to elevate the Lions, overseeing a Jared Goff resurgence. The throw-in piece in the 2021 Matthew Stafford trade, Goff bounced back in 2022 and sits 11th in QBR this season. He ranked fifth in this metric last year — a career-best placement. The Lions went from 25th offensively in 2021 to fifth in Johnson’s first season as the full-time play-caller. Through 11 games this year, Detroit ranks seventh in scoring and sixth in offensive DVOA.

Although Johnson took a risk by not pursuing HC jobs to the end in this year’s cycle, he both received a Lions raise and remains a valued commodity going into the 2024 hiring period. The Bolts bet on an inexperienced coordinator in 2021, hiring Staley after his one season as the Rams’ DC. Johnson, who has been with the Lions since 2019, would be a similar hire. But as an up-and-coming presence on the offensive side, the Detroit assistant may have his pick of the 2024 openings.

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