Ben Johnson Top HC Target For Commanders, Panthers?

To no surprise, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has been connected to several head coaching vacancies this year. He has had an interview requested from five teams in need of a new coach, but two in particular could be worth watching closely as the hiring cycle takes shape.

Johnson is the “top choice” for both the Commanders and Panthers, Dianna Russini of The Athletic reports. Likewise, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport names Washington and Carolina as “potential favorites” to land the up-and-coming offensive mind (video link). Johnson was a relatively hot candidate last season despite having only one year of coordinator experience; the Panthers were among the teams interested in him in 2023, but Johnson withdrew from consideration.

Year 2 at the helm of Detroit’s offense resulted in another strong campaign from Johnson, and widespread interest from the league has followed. The 37-year-old has particularly been connected to the Panthers’ gig early and often. Carolina is expected to be aggressive in pursuing Johnson as part of the wider goal of acquiring a coach who can maximize quarterback Bryce Young‘s potential. Johnson’s work with Jared Goff in Detroit has drawn considerable praise, and he would be a welcomed addition to Carolina’s staff.

Notably, the Panthers are prepared to focus on their HC hire before that of a new general manager. ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler report owner David Tepper‘s top priority is landing Johnson (or another coaching candidate) before finding a Scott Fitterer replacement. The latter was fired on Black Monday after three years at the helm in Carolina. Given the team’s lack of a first-round pick (the top selection in this year’s draft) and roster holes at a number of positions, the new faces brought in for both posts will be tasked with a rebuilding effort.

The Commanders, by contrast, moved very quickly in filling their GM vacancy. The team tapped Adam Peters to lead the front office, and with him now in place, attention can turn to a head coaching hire. Immediately after it was learned Peters was being hired by Washington, reports surfaced naming Johnson as a candidate to watch closely. The latter would mark a notable departure from Ron Rivera in terms of age and experience, but also background since he come through the ranks on the offensive side of the ball.

Owning the No. 2 pick in the 2024 draft, Washington could very well add a rookie passer to take over as the team’s starting QB. At a minimum, competition for Sam Howell is expected to be brought in. The Commanders’ cap situation leaves them with plenty of flexibility heading into free agency, and the team’s new organizational structure under owner Josh Harris will no doubt be on full display during the offseason. Johnson would be a central part of that setup if he were indeed to take the position in the nation’s capital.

For now, of course, Johnson’s focus will be on the Lions’ wild-card matchup tonight. Coaches currently under contract and whose team’s seasons have come to an end cannot be interviewed in person until after the end of the divisional round. The NFL’s new rules on the hiring process will delay the point at which some coaches can begin with their new teams, and that will be true of Johnson if Detroit enjoys a lengthy playoff run. In an event, though, he will have a very strong market for his services.

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