What can the Carolina Panthers do to convince Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to become their next head coach?
After another play-calling masterclass from Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson as the NFC North champions gained their first playoff win in 31 years, his chances of becoming an NFL head coach only increased. Make no mistake, the Carolina Panthers will be among the first looking to make a bold bid once he's permitted to speak virtually with interested parties.
According to league rules, Johnson can formally talk with franchises about their vacancies from Tuesday. There are five known interview requests to ponder. The Panthers were the first, but others swiftly followed as anticipated.
It's no secret how much team owner David Tepper covets Johnson. He wanted him last year before settling with Frank Reich. It would be a shock if the erratic billionaire didn't do everything in his power to land the progressive coach despite generating significant interest from elsewhere.
Carolina Panthers must sell their long-term vision to Ben Johnson
This was a sentiment echoed by Schuyler Callihan from Sports Illustrated. He had Johnson at No. 1 on his list of candidates. He also believes there could be a mutual interest between the coordinator and the organization once again thanks to his close connection to the area.
"Johnson had interest in the Carolina job a year ago but decided to return to Detroit in hopes of making a run for a Super Bowl and to gain more experience as a play-caller. Now, everyone with a head coach opening wants him as their guy and it's easy to see why. He's played a massive role in turning Jared Goff into a legitimate franchise quarterback. This season, Goff threw for 4,575 yards and 30 touchdowns while Jahmyr Gibbs came up 55 yards short of the Lions having two 1,000-yard rushers. As the cherry on top, he's a Carolina guy born and raised."- Schuyler Callihan, Sports Illustrated
These are positives to take into discussion. Tepper has unlimited wealth and can offer Johnson whatever he wants money-wise. As we've stated previously, that's unlikely to be enough.
Multiple respected insiders seem to suggest the Washington Commanders have also identified Johnson as their preferred target. They are a sleeping giant with ambitious plans for growth under Josh Harris' ownership group. They have the No. 2 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft - one of six picks in the top 102 and nine in total. They have the league's most salary-cap space. Their new regime has already convinced Adam Peters to come on board and lead their football operation.
How can Tepper match these obvious positives? It's a tough sell - especially considering his current reputation as a meddling owner with man-child tendencies when things don't go his way. But it's not impossible by any stretch of the imagination.
This starts with quarterback Bryce Young. Things didn't go according to plan for the No. 1 pick as a rookie. Most of it wasn't his doing. Giving Johnson the chance to mold a scheme to fit his skill set and also surround him with the right quality is an intriguing proposition.
It's the opportunity to restore the once-proud organizational culture. Johnson should know all about that being from the area. He was also a former college quarterback at North Carolina. It's almost a blank canvas in that sense aside from the pride attached to the team's Keep Pounding mantra. One only has to look at the locker room scene following Detroit's playoff win to see what the play-caller is part of currently.
The defense is another strong selling point. Some key figures need extending, but there is a core nucleus of exceptional pieces at all three levels to turn this unit into one of the league's best whether Ejiro Evero sticks around or not.
Tepper giving assurances he'll take a back seat would also represent a huge step in the right direction. The last thing Johnson needs during his first season as an NFL head coach is being micromanaged at every turn. If that's what it takes to convince him, the hedge fund manager should oblige.
It'll be interesting to see how things unfold in the coming days. The Panthers are also interviewing others, which indicates there could be a decent contingency plan in place if Johnson decides there is more allure in taking the Commanders' job.
Carolina's desire to land Johnson is the worst-kept secret in football. Can Tepper pull it off? Time will tell…