Have Carolina Panthers thrown in the towel on Ben Johnson?

It seems like Ben Johnson won't be coming to Charlotte.

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper's long pursuit to make Ben Johnson head coach seems to have come to an end.

It was the worst-kept secret in football that the Carolina Panthers were going to make a bold bid in their quest to make Ben Johnson the head coach. Team owner David Tepper has been a long-standing admirer of the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, attempting to lure him during the last cycle before he decided to remain with his current employers.

Now, it seems as if Tepper has thrown in the towel.

Johnson cannot interview in person with any team until next week. The Lions are currently finalizing preparations for their NFC conference championship showdown at the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. This means it's a waiting game for anyone looking to secure one of the hottest head coaching candidates around.

Carolina Panthers look out of the Ben Johnson sweepstakes

Multiple reports suggest the Washington Commanders are going to send their all-star hiring committee to meet with Johnson early next week. The Atlanta Falcons also intend to have a second interview with the respected play-caller despite being closely linked with Bill Belichick in recent days.

As for the Panthers? Nothing.

Carolina Panthers
Ben Johnson / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

This is the clearest sign yet that the Panthers have admitted defeat in their pursuit of Johnson. Perhaps the first meeting virtually didn't go well. Perhaps the coach's representatives informed the organization that he was not interested in taking the job. Perhaps the thought of working for someone like Tepper has put him and others off from taking the plunge.

It's all speculation, but it's also not hard to read the tea leaves. All signs point to Johnson ending up with the Commanders, who could appoint the most coveted head coach and general manager candidates on this year's circuit after already convincing Adam Peters to become their new leader of the team's football operations.

So where does this leave the Panthers?

There is growing momentum linking Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales with the job. He's having a second interview with the team and has a previous working relationship with the new president of football operations/general manager Dan Morgan from their time together with the Seattle Seahawks. The connections are there, although others such as Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris are being considered.

This seems like the Panthers are settling for consolation prizes rather than acquiring their preferred targets. Many fans anticipated such a scenario becoming reality after a two-win campaign where Tepper did nothing but disgrace himself. That's not to say Canales isn't a good coach - he's done sterling work with Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield - but it's unlikely he was their No. 1 option.

That was Johnson by all accounts. Any momentum regarding this particular high has seemingly disintegrated for one reason or another. It was probably a pipedream, to begin with, but the Panthers only have themselves to blame after failing to put themselves in a prominent position to attract some of the highest-profile candidates.

Morgan's internal promotion came with mixed reviews thanks in no small part to his presence as Scott Fitterer's most trusted aide over the last three years. Many feel the Panthers are going sideways rather than forward positively. Anyone coming into the franchise would be on the back foot almost from the outset if their bid for Johnson has failed.

Another case of one that got away.

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