Dave Canales‘ one-year run in Tampa Bay has earned him another offseason move, this time to lead a coaching staff. The Panthers are nearing a deal to hire the Buccaneers OC as their new head coach, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.
The deal is now official. The Panthers announced they’ve agreed to terms with their division rival’s offensive coordinator. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Canales will be on a six-year deal, dedicating a lot of money to the contract of their newest head coach. It’s a long-term commitment that has the potential to pay off for both parties if Canales thrives in his first head coaching role.
A report from earlier this week noted that Canales drew rave reviews from the Panthers’ front office during his first interview. A follow-up meeting was in place, and it has obviously gone well. Carolina was long connected to pursuing a coach with an offensive background, and the team has indeed followed through in that regard.
Still, the move comes as a surprise given Canales’ lack of experience relative to a number of other candidates. The 42-year-old’s time with the Buccaneers in 2023 marked his first time as a coordinator at the NFL level. He came to Tampa Bay after a lengthy tenure in Seattle, during which he overlapped with Dan Morgan. The latter was promoted to general manager earlier this week.
Canales wore a number of hats with the Seahawks, working with the team from 2010-22. He worked with the team’s quarterbacks for much of his time in the Emerald City, and his ability to turn Geno Smith into a Comeback Player of the Year with a career-best performance in 2022 upped his stock considerably. Taking on the Tampa OC posting, he set himself up for another reclamation project of sorts with Baker Mayfield.
The former No. 1 pick outperformed expectations under Canales’ guidance, throwing a career-high 28 touchdown passes and posting a 94.6 passer rating, the second-highest mark of his career. Mayfield is therefore a candidate for a long-term Bucs agreement. If that materializes, however, Canales will not be in place to continue working with him, instead turning his attention to a division rival.
Carolina was interested in Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson during last year’s hiring cycle, and that remained the case in 2024. Johnson – who has received considerable interest from a number of other teams – was reported to be the Panthers’ top target. Johnson’s future remains uncertain as Detroit prepares for the NFC title game this weekend, but another potential landing spot for him has now been eliminated.
Of course, a central reason in the Panthers’ continued pursuit of Johnson was his work with Lions QB Jared Goff. Developing 2023 first overall pick Bryce Young will be the top priority for Canales after he endured a disappointing rookie campaign. Young’s struggles were not entirely of his own doing, but signficant strides will be required to justify Carolina’s acquisition of the No. 1 slot last spring. Major changes along the O-line and in the skill-position room should also be expected, and those can now happen with a new GM and head coach in place.
In the wake of Canales drawing serious interest from the Panthers, it was learned that Buccaneers QBs coach Thad Lewis was a prime candidate to take over as Tampa Bay’s OC. With the former having agreed to Carolina’s HC gig, it will be interesting to see if the latter does get tapped for the promotion. If not, the reigning NFC South winners will need to join the competition for outside additions at the coordinator spots.
Frank Reich entered last season with signficant expectations given his track record and the staff he assembled. Only 11 games into the campaign, however, Reich was let go, a sign of the reputation for impatience that owner David Tepper has generated in recent years in particular. Tepper’s personal involvement in a number of key personnel and roster decisions has also led many to assume top HC candidates would steer clear of Carolina. The team has nonetheless managed to find its next coach earlier than a number of others.
Once the Canales deal becomes official, the 2024 cycle will have seen five hires made. The Falcons, Seahawks and Commanders still have vacancies on their staffs, and their searches will now continue with one fewer candidate on the market.