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Panthers tab Bucs OC Canales as next head coach

The Buccaneers experience a brutal loss to a division rival.

NFL: DEC 31 Saints at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the most shocking news of this year’s coaching cycle, the Carolina Panthers have decided to hire Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

It caps a quick ascension for the 42-year-old Canales, who served under Pete Carroll in Seattle as a positional assistant for many years before finally getting his big break as a playcaller with Tampa in 2023.

While the overall numbers don’t come across as elite (23rd in total yards, 20th in points in per game), the gradual improvement shown throughout the season, as well as strong postseason numbers, provided evidence for a clear upward trajectory. Most notably, however, was Baker Mayfield’s career season under Canales, which would mark the second revival project that the latter was directly involved in — see Geno Smith in Seattle.

With his excellent communication and teaching skills complementing actual on-field results, it makes sense for Carolina, which fielded far and away the worst offense in football. No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young struggle mightily, starting 16 games but producing only 2,877 passing yards and 11 passing touchdowns against 10 interceptions. For reference, Mayfield threw for more than 4,000 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 picks en route to a NFC South title.

Carolina recently hiring Dan Morgan as their full-time general manager strengthened this possibility, as he knew Canales well due to shared time spent in Seattle.

The Panthers were reportedly also high on Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who was widely considered the team’s top choice (also true for other teams), but they had to wait until Monday to interview him in person due to the NFL’s new hiring rules this off-season regarding coaches still in the postseason. Given the extended wait and intense competition, it appears they feel Canales was close enough in quality to warrant the trigger pull.

Bucs players are already sick to their stomachs regarding the news, as running back Rachaad White is.

On the Tampa side, this development might significantly alter their off-season trajectory. Not only does it mean a new offensive coordinator for the entire roster, but it also muddies the waters on Mayfield’s future. The 28-year-old QB finally seemed to earn a lucrative long-term deal, but will the team feel as confident with a potentially all-new system coming in?

Perhaps the team will simply promote QBs coach Thad Lewis, though he’s notably less seasoned at coaching than Canales was. The 36-year-old former signal caller does have familiarity with many current players, as well Bruce Arians’s and Canales’s systems.

Todd Bowles already addressed this possibility earlier in the week, declaring that the team would consider in-house and exterior candidates like they did last year. Nearly half the league is currently (or soon will be) searching for OCs, so the process might take some time.