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A Solution for NFL’s “Hard Knocks” Dilemma

The Browns did something on Monday that could have an adverse effect on Jeff Fisher and the Rams, and no, it has nothing to do with Johnny Manziel.

Cleveland became the latest team to tell HBO to “get lost” when it comes to participating in the latest installment of “Hard Knocks.” The Browns had the right to turn down the network’s request because NFL rules stipulate that no team with a first-year head coach has to participate in the show. But eight teams, including the Rams, don’t have the right to refuse, which means Mike Pettine didn’t do Fisher any favors with his decision on Monday. We’ve already endured plenty of speculation that the show would feature the Rams because of the attention surrounding Michael Sam.

Some speculate 'Hard Knocks' could come calling for the Rams and Michael Sam

Some speculate ‘Hard Knocks’ could come calling for the Rams with the attention surrounding Michael Sam

Fans love the show, but head coaches would rather hook jumper cables up to their eyebrows and have someone rev the engine than worry about what kind of distraction HBO’s cameras would have on their team.

But what if the NFL could alleviate the headache by choosing the participating team well in advance of training camp? The solution is to force the team with that year’s No. 1 overall pick to participate in “Hard Knocks” and thus end the yearly charade that is this nauseating storyline.

Your first thought may be about the current rules in place that exempt certain teams from having to participate in “Hard Knocks.” The three exemptions are: 1) A first-year head coach is in place; 2) A playoff berth in the past two seasons; 3) A “Hard Knocks” appearance in the past 10 years.

But I couldn’t care less about these rules and, clearly, the league couldn’t, either. The NFL had no problem with HBO making Manziel the star of this year’s “Hard Knocks” because the league left it up to Pettine to turn down the request. Had Pettine said yes, then the NFL wasn’t going to stand in the way of HBO taking fans behind the scenes of “Johnny Football’s” first training camp. So why should we care about these inconsequential rules, either?

The other objection I’ve heard is that the team with the first overall pick wouldn’t be interesting. Are you kidding? First and foremost, there’s usually instant intrigue surrounding the player that gets drafted first overall. Last year may have been the exception, seeing as how Eric Fisher wasn’t a big name, but the Chiefs were nonetheless appealing in Andy Reid’s first season in Kansas City (especially seeing as how much success the team wound up having).

The other teams that would have participated in “Hard Knocks” under this idea would have been Andrew Luck’s Colts in 2012, Cam Newton’s Panthers in 2011, Sam Bradford’s Rams in 2010 and Matthew Stafford’s Lions in 2009. On the surface, the 2008 Dolphins may not have drawn ratings, but that was the year Miami went to the playoffs after hiring Bill Parcells (again, instant intrigue to football fans) as executive vice president of football operations. JaMarcus Russell and the dysfunctional Raiders would have been the subject of “Hard Knocks” back in 2007 (Purple drank, anyone?), while cameras would have followed Mario Williams around camp in 2006 after the Texans chose him over Reggie Bush.

There are always intriguing storylines in the NFL, and if the league is going to require one team to participate in “Hard Knocks,” then award/punish the team that finished dead last. (Here’s the good news, NFL franchise: You’ve been awarded the No. 1 overall pick. The bad news is that your every waking move will be filmed throughout training camp. Guess you shouldn’t have blown that fourth-quarter lead back in Week 16.)

This isn’t a pressing issue for the league, but it would be nice if the NFL were efficient in deciding which of its teams was going to be unwillingly dissected for viewers.

I’m sure that sentiment is currently felt by Fisher and the Rams as they await their “Hard Knocks” fate.

About Anthony Stalter

Anthony Stalter is the co-host of The Turn, weekdays from Noon-2pm on 101ESPN. He also hosts much of 101ESPN’s special coverage during Rams season.
  • http://www.cnsqonline.com cesarnoel

    They would likely choose the Steelers in the end.