Ben Johnson Staying in Detroit: What This Means for Lions, Commanders, and Seahawks in 2024

Although he was regarded as the No. 1 HC candidate on the market, Lions OC Ben Johnson is staying in Detroit. What will the Commanders and Seahawks do now?

Ben Johnson will not be an NFL head coach in 2024 — by his own choice. The Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, widely viewed as this hiring cycle’s top head coaching candidate, has informed the Washington Commanders and the Seattle Seahawks — the only two teams still searching for an HC — that he will remain in his current role, according to NFL Network.

Why is Johnson sticking with the Lions? What could make him leave? And where will the Commanders and Seahawks turn now that Johnson is off the market?

Ben Johnson Stays With the Detroit Lions

Johnson probably could have been a head coach last season if he’d wanted to be, as multiple reports suggested he was the favorite to land the Carolina Panthers’ HC opportunity. He rejected the opportunity and is now turning away more potential gigs this offseason.

Johnson’s asking price may have “spooked” interested teams, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Late last year, Josina Anderson of CBS Sports reported Johnson was looking for a $15 million annual salary as a first-time head coach, although his agent later disputed that figure.

Dismissing the chance to accept one of 32 NFL head coaching positions is generally a risky choice, but Johnson should be right back in the mix next offseason. He’s only 37 years old, and there’s no reason to believe the Lions’ offense will take a step backward in 2024.

“I think some people — I can just speak on a personal level — some people, they really want to climb as fast as they can,” Johnson told MLive on Tuesday. “I know particularly young coaches want to do that.

“That’s not been the case for me, per se. I want to be around football. I want to win football games. I want to be around good people. And when I finally had a chance to step back and take a deep breath and look at it, that was the most important thing.

“I love Dan Campbell, I’ve known him for a long time. I believe in the direction of this organization. And so that truly was the biggest drawing point for me to come back, was what we have here, what we’re building here, is something I want to be a part of. I’ve been a part of a number of losing seasons in my 11 years in the NFL.”

Johnson’s stock could be just as high or higher entering the 2025 hiring period. However, it’s still surprising that he turned down jobs this offseason, especially given the appeal of the Commanders’ and Seahawk’s situations.

Washington had reportedly identified Johnson as its top candidate. New owner Josh Harris has already begun to turn things around in the nation’s capital, hiring former San Francisco 49ers executive Adam Peters as the club’s general manager while investing in analytical staff.

The Commanders hold the No. 2 selection in the 2024 NFL Draft, allowing them to choose either USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye as their franchise QB.

Additionally, no team has more projected cap space than Washington’s $73 million. Johnson could have theoretically had the Commanders back in the playoffs as soon as next season.

MORE: ‘This May Be Our Only Shot’ — Dan Campbell’s Works Could Be Prophetic For Lions

The Seahawks aren’t set up quite as well for the future as Washington is. But Seattle has intriguing young pieces like WRs DK Metcalf and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, OT Charles Cross, and CB Devon Witherspoon, plus a roster ready to win now. Johnson could have worked with Seahawks GM John Schneider, widely regarded as one of the league’s sharpest executives.

If Johnson wasn’t interested in leaving Detroit for either of those jobs, what would make him decamp?

Theoretically, a no-doubt franchise QB might do the trick. While Williams and Maye are potentially generational prospects, they’re just that — prospects. Johnson could be waiting for the opportunity to work with an established signal-caller.

Johnson did not receive a pay increase to remain with the Lions, who are more than happy to have their play-caller return next season. Detroit may have turned to passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand as its new OC had Johnson departed, but the Lions won’t have to worry about a succession plan until 2025, at the earliest.

How Johnson’s Decision Affects the Commanders’ and Seahawks’ HC Searches

Six of the eight teams looking for a new head coach this offseason have already filled their vacancies, leaving the Commanders and Seahawks as the only clubs without a dance partner.

Where will those two teams turn to now that Johnson is unavailable? Let’s start in Washington, where the Commanders reportedly had the Lions OC atop their candidate list.

Washington Commanders

The Commanders had planned second interviews with seven of its eight HC candidates (everyone but incumbent OC Eric Bieniemy). Johnson is now off the table, as is Raheem Morris, who accepted the Atlanta Falcons’ job last week.

Washington was aware that Johnson might withdraw from consideration and had been “operating with (that) information,” per The Athletic’s Dianna Russini. However, the Commanders’ brass was en route to meet with Johnson and Lions DC Aaron Glenn when they heard Johnson was remaining with Detroit, as Schefter reported.

Unless Washington adds new candidates to its search, Harris and Peters will choose between the following five coaches:

  • Aaron Glenn, DC, Lions
    • Interviewed on 1/20; second interview on 1/30
  • Mike Macdonald, DC, Ravens
    • Interviewed; second interview on 1/29
  • Dan Quinn, DC, Cowboys
    • Interviewed on 1/18; second interview on 1/30
  • Bobby Slowik, OC, Texans
    • Interviewed on 1/21; second interview on 1/23
  • Anthony Weaver, associate HC/DL, Ravens
    • Interviewed on 1/11; second interview on 1/29

Macdonald is probably the hottest name on the Commanders’ list. He crafted a Ravens defense that ranked first in points per drive (1.35) and second in yards per play (4.6) despite battling injuries to key contributors like CB Marlon Humphrey, S Marcus Williams, and EDGE Odafe Oweh. Baltimore led the league in sacks (60) with Jadeveon Clowney as its top edge rusher.

Quinn is the only Washington candidate with previous head coaching experience, having guided the Falcons from 2015-20. He’s reinvented himself as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, molding a unit around All-Pro Micah Parsons while developing unheralded role players.

Seattle Seahawks

Macdonald and Quinn are also strong candidates to replace Pete Carroll in Seattle. The Seahawks failed to schedule a virtual interview with Macdonald, so they took their first meeting with the Ravens DC on Tuesday.

Quinn, Seattle’s DC from 2013-14, has already interviewed with the Seahawks twice this offseason.

MORE: 2024 NFL Coordinator Interview Tracker

Although Schneider has been Seattle’s GM since 2010, he always ceded final roster authority to Carroll. Now that he’s getting the chance to spread his wings, will Schneider want to hire a former Carroll disciple in Quinn?

The Seahawks had a second interview scheduled with Morris before he accepted the Falcons’ gig. With Johnson no longer an option, here’s who Seattle is considering for head coach:

  • Ejiro Evero, DC, Panthers
    • Interviewed on 1/17; second interview on 1/27
  • Patrick Graham, DC, Raiders
    • Interviewed on 1/17; second interview on 1/23
  • Mike Kafka, OC, Giants
    • Interviewed on 1/19; second interview on 1/24
  • Mike Macdonald, DC, Ravens
    • Interviewed on 1/30
  • Dan Quinn, DC, Cowboys
    • Interviewed on 1/18; second interview on 1/25
  • Bobby Slowik, OC, Texans
    • Interviewed on 1/21
  • Frank Smith, OC, Dolphins
    • Interviewed on 1/18

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