The HBO/NFL Films Hard Knocks series is loved by many fans, but there are a lot of coaches and team executives who do not want their teams on it. That’s sometimes led to a lack of volunteer teams. And that’s why the NFL implemented a rule in 2013 allowing teams to be forced to do the standard training camp version of Hard Knocks (not the newer in-season one, which at this point needs team signoff) if they didn’t meet certain opt-out conditions. And this year presents one of the biggest cases yet for using that forcing rule in a specific way.
Those conditions are having a first-year head coach in place, reaching a playoff berth in the past two seasons, and/or appearing on the show in the past decade. That means there’s a limited list of teams available to be forced each year. This year, that list only includes the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, and Washington Commanders.
But even with that rule, Hard Knocks still tends to look for volunteers. And despite that rule, people from the teams that can be forced tend to criticize the idea of being on Hard Knocks. Figures from each of those four franchises have been doing that recently.
(This is probably why this announcement hasn’t yet been made; volunteer teams can be announced earlier, but forced, or “volunteer,” announcements are often done around the end of mandatory minicamps. The Jets don’t have a mandatory minicamp this year. But the Commanders only just finished theirs. And the other two forcing candidate teams, the Bears and Saints, have theirs next week.)
At any rate, Jets’ coach Robert Saleh seems to particularly not be a fan of the idea of being on Hard Knocks. He’s said things to that effect before. And he added to that discourse more still on Friday:
Robert Saleh: "I know there are several teams that would love for Hard Knocks to be in their building. We are not one of them." #Jets
— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) June 9, 2023
Saleh’s “several teams that would love for Hard Knocks to be in their building” comment is a bit questionable, as very few figures with teams ever seem to say publicly they’d love to have Hard Knocks. Yes, the show has usually wound up with teams volunteering, including the Detroit Lions last year. And, interestingly enough, the source piece there has director Shannon Furman telling Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press that there was some interest from the Jets (who, along with the Lions and the Carolina Panthers, were the only team that could have been forced to be on the show last year), but the Lions were picked because of their enthusiasm:
“There was some interest from both the Lions and the Jets, I think, which were the two teams that were on the list this year. But there was a mutual agreement, the Lions kind of reached out, we were on board. Whenever anyone seems like they’re on board and wants to do it, we want to do it.”
That’s certainly a laudable practice in general. While Hard Knocks always winds up with a significant level of access, having a subject on board with participating would seem to make things a little easier. (And having a team not really happy about the show being there has led to some access challenges in the past.) And while most of the teams that have been on the show have been described as volunteers, that seemingly hasn’t always been with enthusiastic consent. (It says something there that even the “volunteers” are usually teams on the list that can be forced.)
However, there’s a strong argument to be made in this particular case that Hard Knocks should go to forcing even if there was a volunteer (which, to date, there does not appear to have been). And that’s because there’s an obvious and appealing choice in the Jets. The April trade that saw Aaron Rodgers (seen above with Saleh at an introductory press conference in April) head to that franchise has made them the NFL’s most-discussed team at the moment.
And there are so many possibilities for Rodgers-focused Hard Knocks content. Those could include segments featuring him to players talking about how his addition has changed things. (Heck, Rodgers saying whatever he wants on Pat McAfee’s show generates lots of crazy clips; imagine how much less-filtered content could come from him winding up on Hard Knocks cameras.) And despite all the (often-silly) discussion from some that he couldn’t “handle” the New York media, Rodgers seems to be doing a good job of that so far, and is getting off some great lines:
Aaron Rodgers when asked how Zach Wilson has handled the situation he’s been in this offseason:
“He’s been incredible. He hasn’t made my life hell everyday.” ? pic.twitter.com/aWR2i3Ghr8
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) June 9, 2023
And there are so many other notable possibilities to follow with the Jets, too. Those include Wilson; beyond the rarity of a former second-overall pick getting benched by his original team, there’s been lots of other talk around him, including the boos he faced last season, the discussion of “the yips,” and the conversations around his dating life and his mother’s repeated comments on him and the team. There’s also Sauce Gardner, subject of a great nickname and a disturbing Sports Illustrated cover. And Saleh’s often quite quotable himself, and would be interesting to watch on Hard Knocks. And that’s all just scratching the surface.
But it’s Rodgers that’s the most compelling draw here. And the most rare. It’s exceptionally unusual for a Hard Knocks possibility to be even amongst the league’s most-talked-about teams (thanks to those conditions; recent playoff teams can’t be forced, top free agents tend to join recent playoff teams, and even interesting new coaches can’t be forced). And the Jets are by far the most-discussed team at the moment. And that makes a case for Hard Knocks to go ahead with forcing them, even if they’d prefer to nab a volunteer.
[CBS Sports; photo from Tom Horak/USA Today Sports]