Hard Knocks is coming, but does it really benefit a team?

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Many (including me) think the Jets broke the Hard Knocks mold in 2010, and that every year since then the show has been trying to live up to something that won’t be recaptured until another Rex Ryan-coached team enters the spotlight again.

Before the Texans were selected as this year’s Hard Knocks guinea pig, Ryan danced around the possibility for doing in his first year with the Bills what he did in his second year with the Jets. Maybe he was being uncharacteristically coy. Or maybe he now realizes that his team didn’t really benefit from the assignment.

As the Texans prepare for the first episode of their turn under the Hard Knocks microscope, that’s the biggest question: Does it really help?

The Dolphins thought it would help. And it didn’t.

“When I see Bill Belichick allowing the Hard Knocks cameras into his organization, then I’ll believe the experience might be a good thing for the team,” Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald tells Richard Deitsch of SI.com. “I do not think it serves the teams and I do not think it helped the Dolphins. Indeed, it made multiple players upset with coaches when they heard how some coaches spoke about them in private. It created some embarrassment for the players and fostered some distrust of the coaches. This from what players told me.”

It also didn’t help the Dolphins from a strategic standpoint, given that one opponent said he picked up the Miami snap count from watching the show. That opponent’s name is J.J. Watt, whose Texans will risk having their snap count picked up by opponents who watch this year’s show.

The late Steve Sabol, who like his father, Ed, should be in the Hall of Fame, routinely defended the Hard Knocks approach by pointing out that former Packers coach Vince Lombardi loved it when cameras were at practice, because it made his guys go at it harder. Steve Sabol said on many occasions that Lombardi would direct the NFL Films crews to pretend they were shooting practice even when the cameras didn’t have film in them.

But it’s one thing for a snippet or a sound bite to be edited into a broader package that would show up weeks if not months after the fact through a rabbit-eared TV set that had no way to record the information. Today, every frame and every can be captured and dissected.

From the perspective of fans, the scenes that get dissected the most involve the termination of a player’s employment. During the otherwise forgettable 2012 version of the show, the only memorable moments involved coach Joe Philbin cutting receiver Chad Ochocinco and G.M. Jeff Ireland telling cornerback Vontae Davis he’d been traded to the Colts.

The following May, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wants to make the process of cutting players more “humane.” The best place to start would be to not put those moments on HBO every year.

That’s why some teams will never do it, at least not willingly. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in 2013 that he’d fight a Hard Knocks assignment “tooth and nail.”

I think it’s a total distraction, and I think it’s an embarrassment to players,” Arians said at the time.  “I think when players are released, some of the things that are said between coaches and players are too personal, and nobody else’s business.”

There’s another potential drawback that I hadn’t previously considered. The special access given to Hard Knocks potentially undermines the important relationship between the team and the non-league-or-team-owned media that covers it.

“I’ve watched every Hard Knocks for the exact reason I didn’t want the series showing the team I cover: They get access I don’t, so they get storylines I don’t get,” John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tells Deitsch. “They get information I don’t have a chance to get before they do. As a reporter, I don’t like it when anybody gets something I don’t have, but Hard Knocks gets access that isn’t fair to media who cover a team. . . . The Hard Knocks impact is behind the scenes, when the cameras shoot injuries and players being released. That’s where Hard Knocks will impact my job, and I won’t know it until I watch the series, which I would never miss, anyway. Watching in the past, I’ve always felt bad for the media who regularly cover the team.”

I’ve always felt bad for the players who have no say at all in the assignment, but who are the ones most directly affected by it. They’re trying to work, to compete, to earn a job or to keep a job. And they all have to deal with the presence of cameras and microphones that capture everything they do and say — and that capture everything said about them or done to them.

And even though the team has final say over what gets aired, there’s always a chance the team will make things even worse for a player by not removing an embarrassing exchange — like when former (and now current again) Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie had trouble rattling off the names of his children.

So, no, it’s not a benefit for teams. But with the NFL making a long-term commitment to the project, it doesn’t matter whether the teams like it. If the arrangement lasts long enough, they’ll all eventually have to do it.

57 responses to “Hard Knocks is coming, but does it really benefit a team?

  1. Of course its of zero benefit for the teams. Its pretty much of zero interest for the fans too. I won’t waste my time watching that crap.

  2. If RGIII and the Redskins were featured everyone would want to watch because we are the most popular team in Sports. That’s why we are so loved and hated. We are a privledge to watch. #HTTR

  3. One of the criteria for being exempt from Hard Knocks is that the team was in the playoffs within the last two seasons, so Belichick can honestly say it has never come up.

  4. It would be much better if they produced it like a true documentary, instead of forcing the reality TV sewage that poisons our airwaves (or fiber).

    I don’t need to see a guy getting cut, or any of the human drama bs.

  5. Hard Knocks will continue to be, but I agree the negative comments. Winning in the NFL is hard enough without HBO infiltrating your camp.

  6. Hard Knocks is coming to Goodell when he is ‘Interviewed’ by the Judge.

    Can we please get this Televised for all the World to see & hear the NFL get exposed for the LIES & Theft by Deception they attempted against ALL NFL Fans.

  7. Good article and commentary, Florio. If the NFL wasn’t so concerned with making money, they’d shut down Hard Knocks in a New York minute. The points you make once again prove that it IS all about the money in the NFL… because it is wrong on all levels for millions of viewers to watch the painful moments when players are cut or trashed by the coaches in private and so on.

    With that said, I have to admit though I morally think watching men’s pain on Hard Knocks reveals a lack of compassion on my part, I absolutely love the show and look forward to it every year.

    Now I’m off to eat a snack. (God, I wish Rex was doing Hard Knocks every year because that’s entertainment!)

  8. I always liked the Ravens and Bengals versions of the show. The teams get final say in what gets aired so maybe some organization are just smarter then others when it comes to understanding how something portrays them.

  9. It’s not good for a team.

    You can see that some guys are trying to play it up for the cameras so they can watch themselves on Tuesday night.

    But it’s a good watch. Just not my team, please.

  10. This is America. All that matters is money. Hard Knocks is apparently profitable for the league to do. Thus, they do it. End of story.

  11. Hard Knocks was not designed to help any NFL team.

    It’s purpose appears to be the NFL throwing HBO a few crumbs since they don’t broadcast games, with the added bonus that it gives NFL Network (following the season) something to fill up their off-season schedule with other than endless reruns of NFL Total Access.

    Helping the team? LOL!

  12. The only “team” that it does any good for is the one that has an owner who likes the exposure.

  13. Lombardis quote is real interesting. Who wouldn’t want the spotlight and a chance to be recognized on tv without a helmet on? Hard knocks doesn’t make the payers get cut. That’s the NFLs rule. Maybe the players don’t try as hard when the cameras aren’t rolling in practice. Who knows? It was never a favorite show of mine. If the Redskins were on it Id be forced to watch every week tho. hail

  14. Let’s sit around and feel sorry for a bunch of millionaires who have to endure a camera in their faces for a few weeks. The NFL is entertainment, pure and simple. It’s an entertaining show. Suck it up and earn your paychecks.

  15. I Love hard Knocks, but won’t be watching this time around. Houston Texans are a boring team. It will be a JJ Watt fest, which I have no interest in watching.

  16. Not at all. Hurts a team, but the money grubbing NFL doesn’t care. Why else would they do stupid stuff like play games in London? $$$$$$$$$

    The slow decline of the NFL continues….

  17. The Texans have possibly the weakest schedule in the NFL, in the weakest division in the NFL. They’ll be fine, which by Houston standards means .500 again.

  18. America is dying for the Seahawks to do it. Not the milquetoast Dolphins or Falcons (threw up in my mouth slightly) or… the Texans (yuck).

    Beast Mode and Sherman and the LOB…. killer TV right there.

  19. The show does build a different level of interest in some of the players, and is makes me curious about what happens with the featured team that season. But outside of those, I can’t see how it would benefit a team on the field. But that isn’t what the show is about, or every team not featured would be standing in line for next season. I think most players and coaches look at it as intrusive.

  20. Having been an avid football fan of the Oilers and Texans(somewhat) for 50 yrs I know for a fact that John McClain of the Chronicle wouldn’t know a storyline if he tripped over it!

  21. i loved hard knocks when my team (jets) were on it. i don’t think it was a distraction at all since they went to the AFC championship game that year. being a team in the largest media market, the jets already get a ridiculous amount of media exposure so i think the team was already used to it. perhaps being on hard knocks is a bigger detriment to smaller market teams that usually don’t get that kind of coverage? just my two cents.

  22. It’s good for the fans. It’s an inside look you don’t get anywhere else. Who cares if it’s good for the team in question.

  23. I don’t know whether it is good for the team, but I cannot get enough Hard Knocks – no matter which team is featured.

    Great show.

  24. So contract and HR issues cannot be discussed or mentioned by the press in pretty much any other industry. “This is an HR matter” is regularly used as a reason for “no comment” in the NFL. But it’s ok for them to show the cuts on Hard Knocks?

    Makes sense.

  25. It is entertainment first. Just like football is supposed to be. Who cares what the local media thinks. They are the ones ruining sports. It’s all about them. Sorry your job is going away, not our problem. I also do t feel bad for the MEN trying out for million dollar positions. Boo hoo.

  26. It’s about time to reward the hard knocks team with a draft pick or something like that.. Make it worth their wild. I think 2nd round 1st overall would be fair

  27. solo681 says:
    Aug 4, 2015 10:42 AM
    Hard Knocks is coming to Goodell when he is ‘Interviewed’ by the Judge.

    Can we please get this Televised for all the World to see & hear the NFL get exposed for the LIES & Theft by Deception they attempted against ALL NFL Fans.

    ——————————————————

    While there were an equal number of likes/dislikes when I read this post, I do have to believe that televising the hearing(s) would be ratings through the roof!! Won’t happen in the federal court system, but can you imagine? I’m not so interested in Hard Knocks, but seeing Goodell and minions, vs Brady and the NFLPA would probably blow away a Super Bowl in terms of TV ratings. And it is sad that we are at that place!!

  28. The late Steve Sabol, who like his father, Ed, should be in the Hall of Fame, routinely defended the Hard Knocks approach by pointing out that former Packers coach Vince Lombardi loved it when cameras were at practice, because it made his guys go at it harder. Steve Sabol said on many occasions that Lombardi would direct the NFL Films crews to pretend they were shooting practice even when the cameras didn’t have film in them.

    Please STOP comparing today’s football players to those of the greatest bygone eras. The majority of players playing in the NFL today would have been run down and crushed by Lombardi’s players and left the field crying. Scripted reality isn’t reality. Sound bites clipped and massaged into making interesting pay television does the NFL no justice. But the money paid is I am sure GREAT!!!! Because that is what the NFL cares about now. MONEY!!!!!

  29. There should be a rule. If your team doesn’t do Hard Knocks then your team doesn’t get any of the money or proceeds. All these teams refuse but still are willing to accept the paychecks.

  30. Strange question.

    It never occurred to me that anyone even claimed that Hard Knocks “benefited” a team. That’s not what it was created to do. It was created to “benefit” the league both through exposure and HBO $$$.

    That why no team has done it completely voluntarily since 2010.

  31. for what it’s worth…

    01-Ravens* (11-7)
    02-Cowboys (5-11)
    07-Chiefs (4-12)
    08-Cowboys (9-7)
    09-Bengals* (9-8)
    10-Jets*^ (13-6)
    12-Dolphins (7-9)
    13-Bengals*+ (11-6)
    14-Falcons (6-10)
    15-Texans

    doesn’t look like there’s too much of a correlation, seems that sometimes it will follow bad teams & sometimes good teams.

  32. “When I see Bill Belichick allowing the Hard Knocks cameras into his organization, then I’ll believe the experience might be a good thing for the team,”

    It will never happen, to much risk to have the espionage equipment discovered.

  33. i wish hard knocks would film the browns every year, that way i wouldnt have to read the plain dealer, they have got the worse writers for a sports team ever.

  34. The only way to make it fair is to make all 32 teams have a hard knocks style show every year.
    Then no one can opt out and no one can claim that they were at a disadvantage.

  35. Bell B and tommy B would never allow cameras in their facility. You know how much harder it is to cheat when camera crews are watching you?!?!

  36. ANY distraction in training camp is bad for the team. Even Michael Sam knows that. It’s good for the league office, tho. It promotes the league to kids. That why the NFL allows HBO to besmirch team logos.

  37. I don’t care what you say. As a fan of the team that’s on the show, it’s like a sugar high. You can’t get enough. It’s awesome. You get 5 weeks of total in depth stuff on your team. How can a fan not love this? I wish we were on EVERY year on Hard Knocks.

  38. The only thing that will save Hard Knocks is to have the Bears on it. 3rd biggest market, haven’t seen them yet. last year would have been fascinating. this year less so. next year though? terrible for the team, fascinating for the fans.

  39. I’ll never forget Rex dissing Woodhead by citing his size (talent be damned) as the reason for cutting him and going with some scrub, because “at the end of the day (hand gestures height) matters.”

    Good call Wrecks!

  40. Has any team that was on Hard Knocks ever had a successful season that year? Either way,that’s one show I can do without.

    ——————————

    Didn’t the Jets go to the AFC championship that year?

  41. Please do correct me if I’m wrong, but since the ’09 bengals hasn’t every team featured on the show improved their record? I can understand coaches not wanting cameras in their meetings and whatnot, but I don’t see a negative impact to a team doing hard knocks. I’m admittedly a jets fan and we did it right after the first afccg (when Rex and Sanchez were going to rule the world, LOL) and when it was my team I loved it even more than usual. Plus we improved our record to 11-5 and went back to the afccg I don’t get all the flak that hard knocks gets.

  42. They should do at least 3 teams a year and show it 5 nights week until the season starts, great show. They can give more editorial rights to the teams if they want.

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