Hard Knocks is an HBO series that, each offseason, follows one NFL team through its training camp and covers the team’s preparation for the upcoming football season. The series premiered in 2001, and, starting with the 2021 season. there has been an in-season version of Hard Knocks following a different team than the training camp version.
The series shows the personal and professional lives of the players, coaches, and staff, including their family life, position battles, and even inside jokes and pranks. It particularly focuses on rookies’ adjustments to playing in the NFL, usually with emphasis on the team’s most recent top draft pick. It usually also chooses to focus on undrafted and journeyman players who are attempting to make the team.
There are a limited number of franchises that seem to enjoy being featured on Hard Knocks. I believe that Jerry Jones sees it as a valuable brand-building exercise, and the Cowboys have appeared on the show 3 times — more than any other team. For the most part, however, teams tend to avoid the show, seeing it as a disruption of focus during the critical team-building that takes place in July and August every year.
For this reason, since 2013, the league has had a set of criteria to ‘qualify’ teams for Hard Knocks in the absence of any volunteers. To qualify for the next edition of Hard Knocks, an NFL team must not have made the postseason for two straight seasons; they must not have a rookie head coach, and they can’t have participated in the program in a decade.
The only teams who meet those qualifications in 2023 are the Bears, Saints, Jets, and Commanders.
There are certainly a lot of reasons why the Commanders might make a compelling subject for Hard Knocks this year.
- By the time training camp arrives, the franchise will likely have a new owner, which would provide an interesting background story to the series and would allow the show to delve into the chequered history of the Dan Snyder era.
- It would provide an up-close and behind-the-scenes look at Eric Bieniemy, who, for 3 or 4 years now has been the poster boy for the NFL’s lack of diversity at the head coaching position.
- Sam Howell is likely to be a compelling story at quarterback, since the 2nd year player had a meteoric rise followed by a sharp decline in draft stock during his time at UNC, and has become QB1 somewhat by default after a series of disastrous QB moves by the franchise. In fact, Washington’s long history of struggle at the position provides grist for the mill.
- While HBO usually doesn’t focus on ‘star’ players with high name recognition, they sometimes do if that player is facing a struggle, such as a return from injury. Chase Young offers the name recognition and the struggle to return to the production he displayed as a rookie.
- The team’s horrible ranking in the NFLPA’s player survey that was released this week, which asked players about things like facilities, food and family-friendliness could drive an interest in what the series might bring to light, both positively and negatively.
- Of course, Ron Rivera is widely seen to be on the “hot seat”, due to his inability to put together a winning season in his 3 years at the helm, his inability to solve the quarterback situation, and the simple fact that a new owner is likely to want to put his own fingerprints on the front office and coaching staff.
Fans of NFL teams seem to be of two minds about seeing their favorite team featured on Hard Knocks. On on hand, most fans are very intrigued by the opportunity to “see behind the curtain”; on the other hand, fans don’t want the distraction of the cameras, production crew, and weekly shows to disrupt the dynamic of camp.
With Washington being one of only 4 qualifying franchises in 2023, and with so many reasons why producers would consider the team along with other story-line laden teams (most notably the Jets), it seemed like a good idea to poll the Hogs Haven members on the question of whether they’d like to see the team featured on the HBO series this year or not.
The split in opinion is roughly 60-40, with the majority interested in seeing the team on the show.
It may be a while before we know which team will be chosen. Looking back at past announcements, some have been made as early as the end of March, while others have not been publicized until June.
If the team isn’t chosen for the training camp version, there is also the 2nd bite at the apple with the 3rd year of the in-season version of the show, though I’m not sure if the level of fan interest is as great for that variant.
In the meantime, there’s plenty to keep fans engaged. The annual Scouting Combine is currently underway in Indianapolis. The “legal tampering” period ahead of free agency begins on the 13th of March, with the official start of free agency at 4pm on the 15th.
After a 5-week breather, the NFL storms back into fan consciousness with the 2023 Draft scheduled for April 27-29.
After the draft analysis subsides, the NFL goes into its quietest time of year from a fan perspective, with little happening for about 10 or 12 weeks aside from rookie camps and mini camps until training camps ramp up in the final week of July.
Whether the 60% of fans get their wish to see the burgundy & gold featured on Hard Knocks for the first time, or the 40% are rewarded with another season without the distraction of HBO, we can all probably count on the most entertaining/distracting offseason of our lives (and we’ve had more than most NFL fans already).
Washington fans have lived through the name change, the rebranding, news reports about the toxic culture in the franchise, and multiple investigations. We know already that the news, reports, and speculation driven by the Danny Sells the Team (or maybe not) Show will likely continue unabated throughout the Spring and Summer, providing all the slow-motion car wreck entertainment that we can handle.
Come to think of it, maybe we don’t need cameras around to capture that scene after all.