On August 10th, the first episode of the newest season of HBO’s Hard Knocks will premiere. In it, will be the most popular team in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys. As Jerry Jones’ team tries to bounce back from a 6-10 season, the Cowboys will be a great subject for the show. Think about the obvious storylines and players to watch, like Dak Prescott’s rehab, Micah Parson’s rookie season, and Mike McCarthy’s second year with the team.
It should prove to be a fun season for the famous NFL show.
However, not everyone is excited about the Cowboys being on the show. Some have even gone as far as saying that it’ll be a problem for them. The argument is that America’s Team is going to be adding an additional distraction to a season in which they’re the favorites to win the NFC East.
While I’d probably agree with these comments if we were talking about a high school team being featured in a show like QB1 or a junior college in Last Chance U, it seems unlikely Hard Knocks will be a distraction for NFL players. They are, after all, used to the spotlight. And when it comes to Dallas Cowboys’ veterans, they’re used to primetime.
Hard Knocks teams in recent memory and their results:
2013 Bengals: 11-5, Playoffs
2014 Falcons: 6-10
2015 Texans: 9-7, Playoffs
2016 Rams: 4-12
2017 Bucs: 5-11
2018 Browns: 7-8-1
2019 Raiders: 7-9
2020 Rams: 10-6, Playoffs
2020 Chargers: 7-9
2021 Cowboys: ???
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) July 2, 2021
Some point to recent Hard Knocks teams and their records as an argument as to why being on the show is bad news for the Cowboys. Take the previous records as an example. Since 2013, only three Hard Knocks teams have gone to the NFL Playoffs. With a combined 66-77-1 record (.458), one could assume Hard Knocks teams do not do well.
However, there’s a more logical explanation to that than a few extra cameras and microphones in training camp. HBO doesn’t just pick a random team out of the 32 NFL franchises. In fact, most of the league is eliminated due to the show’s eligibility rules.*
Note: Teams can volunteer to appear on the show. But if HBO is to pick the featured team, these exemptions apply.
NFL teams are not eligible to be featured in Hard Knocks if they have a first-year head coach. They also can’t appear if they’ve been featured in the last 10 years. In fact, the Cowboys were automatically out of consideration until 2018 because they were featured in 2008.
Yet, it’s the third rule that sheds some light on the lack of success for Hard Knocks teams. Per the league’s agreement with HBO, teams that have made the playoffs in any of the last two seasons are also exempted.
Naturally, contending teams are usually not in the mix of Hard Knocks candidates. The Dallas Cowboys, although not one of the favorites in the NFC, is in a very specific situation. 2019 was a season that resulted in the firing of Jason Garrett and his coaching staff. 2020 went south after Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury in Week 5.
With Prescott back and an elite group of position-skill players, the Cowboys are not your typical “have-missed-the-last-two-playoffs” NFL team.
If the 2021 season doesn’t go as they plan, though, it’ll probably because of injuries, an underperforming defense, or a failure to meet expectations from the offense. It won’t be because HBO decided to feature the Dallas Cowboys on Hard Knocks in August.
Featured image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports