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2024 Senior Bowl Buzz: NFL Offseason Rumors and Developments, Standout Prospects

Despite drawing interest for head coaching jobs, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson announced he plans to remain with the Detroit Lions for the 2024 season. (Detroit Free Press)

The 2024 Senior Bowl is in the books, but the buzz from it continues. It's one of the NFL's largest gatherings of front-office members, scouting executives and agents.

It provided an opportunity to gain insight into many of the offseason's biggest moves, non-moves and rumors.

Why Did Ben Johnson Remain With Lions?

A report came out Tuesday during Senior Bowl week that Ben Johnson was removing himself from consideration for the head coaching jobs of the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders. Johnson will remain as the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator for another year.

There has been plenty of speculation about what actually happened — whether it’s money-related, a bad interview, or he genuinely just wanted to stay in Detroit. Most people I spoke to in the personnel and agent communities believe Johnson knows he’s in a great situation with Detroit.

He’ll be back as a top candidate next year. Houston Texans coach DeMeco Ryans did the same thing a couple of years ago, opting to stay in San Francisco instead of taking the Minnesota Vikings job. 

However, some question why Johnson let the word out he was staying in Detroit. There’s a reason behind everything that becomes public in the NFL, and there are some who believe Johnson’s camp wanted the narrative to be he’s returning to Detroit instead of him not getting either of the last two jobs.

Johnson will eventually have a chance to speak for himself, but this has been a major topic of conversation in league circles.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley
Jeff Hafley left his job as head coach at Boston College to become the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator. (Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)

Will More College Coaches Leave for NFL JoBs?

News also emerged Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley agreed to become the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator.

On the surface, it sounds crazy that a head coach would agree to “downgrade” and become a coordinator. But many people think this could become a trend. That's because of the ever-changing landscape of college football: the transfer portal, NIL, securing funding and recruiting your own guys. 

Some coaches just want to coach, or at the very least for there to be more structure with the rules.

“At least in the NFL, there's a CBA, there's free agency, there are rules, people understand the do’s and don'ts,” one coaching agent said. “College is just absolute chaos right now for some, and this could become a trend unless something changes.” 

There have been rumblings for months that UCLA head coach Chip Kelly would be willing to leave his job to become an NFL offensive coordinator. 

Panthers' Hires Lauded Around League

The Carolina Panthers had an all-around terrible 2023, and some deemed them to be in the worst position of any team entering this offseason. However, several league sources gave them credit for how they’ve handled the offseason so far.

The most important thing is proving they made the right decision to trade up in 2023 to draft Bryce Young No. 1 overall. Last season’s coaching staff was considered an all-star group with many respected names.

What transpired throughout the season was another story. There were way too many voices and offensive philosophies in the building. Once the losses piled up, everyone blamed each other and believed their offense would work best. 

Hiring Dave Canales and giving him full control over his staff so everyone has an aligned vision was a big change. Carolina also gave him a six-year contract, which is rare for first-time coaches. But it has happened before.

The Texans did it with Ryans, the 49ers did it with Kyle Shanahan and the Lions did it with Dan Campbell. It’s usually a sign ownership acknowledges it could take time before success comes, and they’re willing to be patient. 

Patience will be key with owner David Tepper, and only time will tell if he’s willing to play along. Several people told me when putting together my head coach candidates list that Canales was a name to watch. However, if a team hired him they’re getting him a year early. Carolina was willing to take that risk. 

On top of that, the Panthers also got praise for the front office they’re assembling. It starts with GM Dan Morgan and Executive VP of Football Operations Brandt Tilis, who came from Kansas City. This structure is similar to what San Francisco has with John Lynch and chief contract negotiator Paraag Marathe.

If Tepper is willing to let the football people handle football, some said they could see Carolina turning it around sooner rather than later.

>>READ: Grading the 2023 Offseason One Year Later

What Sort of Contract Will Baker Mayfield Get?

One of the more intriguing contract situations this offseason concerns Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield

Mayfield went from being on three teams in 2022 to winning the starting job and getting Tampa Bay to the Divisional Round in 2023 on a one-year prove-it contract. Mayfield is in a similar position to where Geno Smith was last year. Smith won the starting job over Drew Lock, led Seattle to the playoffs and then signed a three-year extension. 

Mayfield should receive a similar offer this year, but remember the Seahawks didn’t use the franchise tag on Smith. They were willing to let him get to the open market because they believed no team would offer him a lucrative contract. They were right, and the contract they agreed to with Smith was team-friendly in its structure. 

People have assumed Tampa Bay will just use the tag should there be no deal before the tag deadline, but several personnel members warned that isn’t a slam dunk.

“Would any other team offer Mayfield, let's say, a three-year, $110 million contract on the open market? If Tampa believes that answer is no, they could take their time with this just like Seattle did with Smith,” one front office executive said. 

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle recovers an onside kick against the Detroit Lions
When San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle recovered a last-minute onside kick it sealed the Detroit Lions' fate in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 28, 2024. (Detroit Free Press)

Onside Kick Could Get the Boot

The Lions' last hope of coming back in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers relied on recovering an onside kick, which they failed to do. 

The chances of success for an onside kick are slim. In the regular season, 41 attempts were made, but only two were recovered. It’s not an exciting play, and the NFL wants close games with drama until the end. The league has explored alternatives to the onside kick in recent offseasons, with growing momentum for a fourth-and-15 or fourth-and-20 play that would give teams a chance to maintain possession. 

Discussions about logistics, such as when and how many times per game this play could be used, were tabled last offseason, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they resurface again at the March league meetings. People I spoke to are intrigued by the idea and have become way more open to it.

Senior Bowl Stock Report

A handful of players consistently garnered the most buzz from personnel members I spoke to after Senior Bowl week. These include:

>>READ: Who Distinguished Themselves At Senior Bowl?