Hard Knocks Aug 18, 2020; Thousand Oaks California, USA; A HBO Hard Knocks film cameraman shoots video footage at Los Angeles Rams training camp at Cal Lutheran University. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The clock is ticking as the NFL has yet to find a team that is willing to participate in this year’s version of the HBO/NFL Films Hard Knocks series. While it’s beloved by fans, there are a lot of coaches and team executives who do not want their teams on it. And that’s led to a lack of volunteer teams, which is why the NFL implemented a rule in 2013 allowing teams to be forced to do the standard training camp version of Hard Knocks if they didn’t meet certain opt-out conditions. 

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.

And for the first time, the NFL may be forced to choose a team to participate in this year’s version of Hard Knocks. While you can make compelling arguments for why either the Jets or Bears should be featured, both franchises have already cast their aversions to participate. Though, as we know, the NFL can force them to do so.

At the same time, that level of apprehensiveness has led to the league expanding its search, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported on Monday

Per multiple sources, the NFL has expanded its search for preseason Hard Knocks teams beyond the four that, by league rule, technically could be forced to do it — the Jets, Bears, Saints, and Commanders. The first three have made clear that they have no interest in doing it. The Commanders, we’re told, would do it if selected.

So perhaps the league isn’t interested in forcing a team that doesn’t want to participate to participate.

Florio echoed as such during an appearance on 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Show on Tuesday.

“I think it would be great to force a team that doesn’t want to do Hard Knocks to do Hard Knocks. I think that would be awesome,” Florio said. “But I’m told they’ve moved on to other teams that aren’t in that short list of four that can be forced to do it. But they also have to figure out who’s gonna be the in-season Hard Knocks team. There’s no formula for that. They find a team every year… The Commanders are in the running to be either the preseason Hard Knocks or the in-season Hard Knocks and I think they’ll do it. The league wants to wait until the sale of the team is finalized before doing anything.”

“But they are looking at other teams that can’t be forced to do it. Just like [Pittsburgh Steelers head coach] Mike Tomlin says, ‘We want volunteers, not hostages.’ NFL Films wants volunteers, not hostages, to do Hard Knocks. So, I think the Bears are in the clear.”

So, according to Florio’s reporting, the Bears are likely in the clear, which would mean that the Jets might be as well. Though, let’s not take that to the bank just yet. In the scenario that’s painted by Florio, perhaps the NFL will allow the Commanders to do an in-season Hard Knocks and not let the finalization of any potential sale hold them for the preseason. That could explain why they have expanded their search, even though the Commanders are likely to say yes, as Florio said Tuesday.

The idea that Hard Knocks is a debilitating distraction for teams took a hit with head coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions embracing the coverage last year en route to a surprising nine-win season (and if the Lions want to volunteer to do Hard Knocks again this year, we’d approve of that).

It remains to be seen what the NFL ultimately chooses to do, but with training camp on the horizon, time isn’t exactly on their side.

[Pro Football Talk, Audacy]

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.