Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson during warm-ups. Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson watches warmups before the game vs. the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.

Ben Johnson, much like his boss, isn’t afraid to take risks.

Johnson returning to the Detroit Lions as their offensive coordinator is one of the most surprising developments of the NFL head coaching carousel. The 37-year-old innovator seemed destined for a promotion after his role in the team’s most successful season in decades. However, on Tuesday, Johnson informed the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders that he was staying put.


NFL jobs are hard to get. Even when it’s not an ideal situation, most assistants take them because you may not get another opportunity. The Lions succeeded this season under coach Dan Campbell because they refused to be cautious. Johnson appears to be doing the same, betting on himself for a better opportunity in the long run.

That’s admirable. His decision also prompts questions about the Seahawks and Commanders. Does Johnson not think either franchise is close to becoming a Super Bowl contender? Or was there/is there a particular job that piqued his interest? Maybe it was a combination of several things. There was also this head-scratching tweet from Adam Schefter.

Schefter has more information than most of us. Still, this seems like the kind of info teams would leak when they’re trying to save face. Washington and Seattle are worth billions of dollars. Why would they be concerned about the salary demands of a potential franchise-changing coach? The truth is we might never know the answer.

Time is on Johnson’s side because he’s a young coach, and NFL owners are notoriously impatient. There were eight openings after the 2023 season. There were five last year. Nine the previous season. It’s reasonable to assume there will be at least five next winter, including possibly high-profile jobs with the Dallas Cowboys and both New York teams (the Giants and the Jets).

By sticking with the Lions, Johnson could make himself the No. 1 available coaching candidate next season not named Bill Belichick. Plus for many teams, Johnson might be the more desirable hire because of his age and offensive mind. Whoever brings in Belichick, 71 (and 73 in April 2025), is looking for a quick fix.

Of course, there are no guarantees. We don’t know if this breakthrough season for the Lions is the start of something sustainable or an outlier for what has been one of the league’s most inept franchises. After blowing a 24-7 lead in the NFC Championship and making questionable decisions, the refreshingly candid Campbell said, “This may have been our only shot.” In a league built on parity, it wouldn’t take much for Detroit to regress to being a laughingstock.

However, let’s assume that the Lions have built a solid foundation. They boast young skill position players with speed, including running back Jahmyr Gibbs, wide receiver Jameson Williams, and tight end Sam LaPorta. Their offensive line was ranked second-best in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.

As long as everyone remains healthy and Jared Goff executes the plays, the Lions should have an elite offense again. In 2023, the Lions were fifth in scoring (27.4 points per game) and second in total yards (394.8). Johnson was praised for his creativity and getting the most out of Goff. There’s no reason not to believe that the best is yet to come offensively. Goff is in the final year of his contract and is seeking an extension. If a deal isn’t made before the season, Goff should have plenty of motivation. 

As young players often get better with experience, so do coaches. This was just Johnson’s second year of calling plays after serving as Detroit’s tight ends coach the previous two seasons. Johnson has time to grow and has time to select the right head coaching job for him.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.