New York Jets Aug 26, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) and head coach Robert Saleh leave the field after the first half of their game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Jets were announced as this year’s Hard Knocks team, Robert Saleh immediately texted Joe Douglas.

It’s not uncommon for a head coach to text with his general manager, as the pair generally need to be in lockstep for any organization, not just one with Super Bowl aspirations. Not every opinion is in unison. But clearly, Saleh and Douglas felt the same way about doing the HBO/NFL Films series, and there was always going to be an access caveat with this year’s edition.

Appearing on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast, Douglas revealed what Saleh texted him. The Jets’ coach had no interest in showing players being cut as the team trimmed its 90-man roster down to 53 heading into the season. The access was already going to be limited as is, with the team being forced into the show. But Gang Green was going to keep HBO/NFL Films out of the room for those very raw, emotional moments. And that was reflected in Episode 5 of the series, which premiered Tuesday on HBO and Max.

“When we found out we were doing Hard Knocks, it was really cool because Robert immediately texts me, ‘I don’t want to show any players getting cut.’” Douglas told Long. “And I’m like ‘Brother, we see it the exact same way.’ There’s no way, no way we’re gonna do that. These kids put their heart and soul into this every day and we’re not gonna exploit one of the worst moments of in their life.”

Douglas and Saleh kept the promise. 

It was a bit more personal for Douglas, 22 years after being “The Turk” during the first-ever Hard Knocks with the Baltimore Ravens. Douglas, then a player personnel assistant, was the man tasked with informing players they had just been released. Douglas would send them to then-head coach Brian Billick, with their playbook, to be informed of their fate.

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Douglas was only beginning to come up the ranks: this was a good two decades before he became a general manager, so he likely had no say in the matter. But showing that moment for the whole world to see was not something he was going to do in this version of Hard Knocks.

Instead, in a bit of a full circle moment, Douglas was able to tell undrafted free agent wide receivers Jason Brownlee (Southern Miss) and Xavier Gipson (Stephen F. Austin) that they had done the impossible and made the team with all the odds stacked against them. And for moments like that, they wanted the HBO/NFL Films cameras in the room.

The reason why the Jets didn’t allow cameras to show players being cut dates back to 2001. And while the NFL Films cameras did show players leaving the team facility or saying their goodbyes after they were informed of their release, that very moment was not shown, just as the Jets had wanted it.

But an unfortunate part of Hard Knocks is that fans can get attached to a fringe roster player, hearing his underdog story being told and rooting for said player to make the 53-man roster. Unfortunately, seven-year defensive lineman Tanzel Smart was one of the last players to be informed of his release. And he had quickly became a fan favorite on this version of the series, with his infectious energy and willingness to give everything he had.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Smart being cut. “You coach because of players like him. Players that give you everything in their soul and their body every single day.”

“At the end of the day, I put everything could into this ****, and it is what it is,” said Smart, who re-signed with the team’s practice squad following being released.

There was a bit of a raw, welcome-to-the-NFL moment for first-rounder Will McDonald IV. As the pass rusher out of Iowa State walked onto the practice field with linebacker Quincy Williams, he expressed sadness that Smart had been let go. While Williams shared that sentiment, he gave McDonald a lesson in the business side of things. It’s never personal, but it can be a cruel game.

Speaking of cruelness, did Hard Knocks have to have cut off Aaron Rodgers before the Hall of Fame quarterback went into a tangent about aliens? Rodgers detailed a UFO sighting as only he could, but he certainly seemed like he was 30 seconds away from talking about it.

There’s nothing we could write that would top this fascinating segment from the 39-year-old quarterback who sometimes moonlights as a conspiracy theorist, so please do yourself a favor and watch the clip below.

While it’s certainly hard to top Aaron Rodgers talking about UFOs, the best part of the episode was head coach Robert Saleh’s speech. Saleh is a players’ coach, first and foremost. But Hard Knocks did a great job of utilizing some of these moments from Saleh, where he brought down the house with some speeches. That includes his most recent one (with a lot of f-bombs, which annoyed ESPN contributor Chris “Mad Dog” Russo), which was transcribed by SNY’s Connor Hughes on Twitter:

“This journey, this climb is about to get hard as ****. It is. That’s the reality of it. There’s going to be a ton of adversity along the way. And the crows, like we’ve talked about, they’re going to come pecking.

“They’re all talking about how we have to go through this team, this division, this conference, and that quarterback — well, ****, they have to deal with us too. All the way across the board: I’ll take everyone in this room over anybody in football.

“One of my biggest pet peeves I have as a coach is when you’re on a team that’s not doing very well and the opposing coach whose team is doing well walks up to you at the 50-yard-line and says ‘Man, you guys play hard.’ “**** you. I don’t want to ******* play hard. I want to **** you up. That’s the mindset.

“No one is talking about how we play hard anymore. They’re ******* hating. And that’s exactly what you ******* want.”

We’ll leave you with that. The Jets aren’t shying away from the spotlight, hype or the expectations that come with it. No longer the hunter, they are now the hunted. They understand that and have embraced the role of a villain. We’ll have to wait until ESPN’s first Monday Night Football of the season on Sept. 11 to see just what this team is made of.

Click these links to read Awful Announcing’s reviews of Hard Knocks’ Episode 1Episode 2, Episode 3 and 4.

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.