The NFL Draft is passed and we’re in the most boring part of the football offseason, so this year’s team for HBO’s Hard Knocks could be revealed any day now. These are the five teams that must participate in Hard Knocks if selected, because they: 1) do not have a first-year head coach, 2) have missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and 3) have not appeared on Hard Knocks in the past ten years. So which of the five mandatory teams would make for the best television this summer?
Let’s start with the team most people would love to see on Hard Knocks. Jon Gruden mic’d up is hilarious, and it’d be cool to see new general manager Mike Mayock work during his first year in his new position as the transition from television continues after what’s been deemed a strong first draft. As for the players, Oakland has become one of the league’s most entertaining rosters after adding Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict, Trent Brown (the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history), and three first-round draft picks in a draft class that also includes former Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow (another well-known player after catching the game-winner in the national championship game in 2017). Unless HBO is hoping the Raiders just miss the postseason again this year, setting up another potential mandatory Hard Knocks appearance for their move to Vegas in 2020, they should be an easy top choice.
They’ve gone a bit under-the-radar this offseason, but the other team in the Bay Area added a lot of talent to their roster, too. Second overall pick Joey Bosa headlines the group, but the Niners also traded for defensive end Dee Ford from the Chiefs, signed linebacker Kown Alexander to a huge contract, and signed running back Tevin Coleman to an already-stacked running back group that’ll be very competitive. There’s also the storyline of franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo returning from a torn ACL (along with running back Jerick McKinnon doing the same), and All-Pro tight end George Kittle is one of the league’s biggest characters.
The Giants are probably the most criticized team in the NFL in 2019, which is rare for a storied franchise. However, the critics could be way off on everything they’re saying, and Hard Knocks would give general manager Dave Gettleman a chance to show that he knows what he’s doing (not that he needs to prove it considering his success as an executive). Like the Raiders (perhaps the only team that gets criticized more), the Giants also had three first-round picks (quarterback Daniel Jones, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, cornerback Deandre Baker), and it’d be interesting to track Jones’ progress as he prepares to sit behind Eli Manning to open the season. Also, hopefully negative fans would finally get behind Jones if they see that he’s a good kid.
In a comical back-and-forth, Lions head coach Matt Patricia says he thinks “Jon Gruden is an excellent choice for the show. I think the Oakland Raiders and everything they’ve got going on right now would be fantastic viewing for everybody to watch.” But Gruden responded by saying he thinks Patricia and his beard would be perfect for Hard Knocks. Seriously, the Lions want no part of being under the microscope in Patricia’s second season leading the franchise, as their Patriot-like ways mean secrecy whenever possible. The Lions have talented players, and Patricia is a funnier guy than some might believe; but it still feels like Detroit would be boring compared to the first three teams.
The Redskins also might be relatively boring on Hard Knocks, as they’re a team that wants to win by playing solid mistake-free football—even after the addition of quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round, it’s unlikely they’re going to sling the ball around the yard in 2019. There are some personalities like Josh Norman, Trent Williams, and Derrius Guice, along with future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson; and the several Alabama players on the roster might be something that’s joked about throughout training camp. Overall, it’d be kind of messed up to force a team on Hard Knocks that had its starting quarterback, Alex Smith, suffer a devastating leg injury that might end his career months earlier.
Other fun options:
There is a chance that a team volunteers to be on Hard Knocks in 2019, in which case it could be one of the NFL’s other 27 teams that we get an inside look at throughout training camp and the preseason. The Patriots (because Bill Belichick wouldn’t want to give up a strategic advantage) and Cardinals (because they’re likely to want their new offense under wraps as much as possible) would probably never happen, but I could see these three teams volunteering this year.
Yes, the Browns were just on Hard Knocks last season, but can’t you see it being a group that would want to be on the show again? Odell Beckham Jr. might be the most polarizing figure in the league, and a summer of Hard Knocks would give us a look at his mindset after being traded from New York to Cleveland. Last season on Hard Knocks was a pretty bad showing for the organization if we’re being honest, so maybe John Dorsey, Freddie Kitchens, and company will want to show they’re making big changes in 2019.
The franchise finally won a Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago, so there’s a little less pressure on the team. I could see Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and many of his players enjoying their summer being documented—though head coach Doug Pederson would probably feel a lot differently about wanting his team on HBO throughout the preseason. Carson Wentz is one of the NFL’s most popular players, and he’s just one of many on Philadelphia’s roster.
The Tyreek Hill situation obviously complicates things, so that could mean there’s no chance the Chiefs would volunteer to be on Hard Knocks. But Kansas City might be the biggest draw of any team in the league because of the presence of reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. The electric quarterback probably does amazing things on a daily basis during practice, and it’d be cool if HBO was there to capture those moments.