Jan 20, 2014; Mobile, AL, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones with head coach Jason Garrett seen in the stands of the North squad practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Hard Knocks Dallas Cowboys Makes Perfect Sense for HBO and Jerry Jones

Oct 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are no stranger to hard knocks (both literally and figuratively). But referring specifically to the HBO annual documentary series, Hard Knocks, the Cowboys could soon be making a surprise tertiary appearance.

Let me be clear, this is only speculation at this point. Neither the Cowboys or HBO have announced a thing and typically these decisions aren’t finalized until the summer. But follow with me and you’ll see it makes sense.

Hard Knocks: Owners Love/Coaches Hate

Most teams avoid the HBO behind-the-scenes microscope of Hard Knocks. Coaches and General Managers fear the analysis, second guessing, and the all-access nature of the program. It’s only natural to dislike someone “looking over your shoulder” at work. Just imagine millions of viewers looking over your shoulder and you can understand the obvious aversion.

Owners tend to like the program because it brings attention to the team and can be marketable to the fans. Owners love the money but struggle convincing their GMs and coaches that the financial benefits outweigh the scrutiny and risks. For instance, What if a player shows great potential in training camp and the team hopes to stash and develop said player on the practice squad? If the HBO cameras notice or overhear this strategy, the likelihood of another team swooping in and grabbing the player increases.

The League Mandate

Mar 24, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference during the NFL Annual Meetings. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 24, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference during the NFL Annual Meetings. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike Jerry Jones, most owners do not want to step on the toes of their coaching staff. This has resulted in HBO struggling to find willing participants in recent years. The solution is a passive-aggressive owner/league mandate circumventing the will of the coaches, while also avoiding direct blame on the specific owner.

In other words, the league empowered itself to force participation in the show. To make the mandate a bit more digestible they issued a set of exemptions. According to deadspin the exemptions are:

  1. If a team made the playoffs in either of the past 2 seasons they are exempt
  2. If the team has a new head coach they are exempt
  3. If the team has been on Hard Knocks in the past 10 years they are exempt

Deadspin and their readers also cracked the code on which teams do not meet any of three exemptions. I wrote about that early this year in this Sport DFW article. The Cowboys meet the exemption status because they have previously participated in the Hard Knocks series in 2008 (and before that in 2001). But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys can’t be on Hard Knocks. It just means the NFL cannot make them be on Hard Knocks.

Why It Works: Jerry Jones

It’s no secret Jerry Jones loves the limelight. He’s what most of us distastefully refer to as an “attention whore”. This need for attention is actually a good thing from a brand perspective and is what makes him one of the best owners in professional sports (but still one of the worst GMs in professional sports). Despite the Cowboys poor performance on the field Jerry has managed to make, and keep, the Cowboys the most valuable franchise in the NFL.

Jul 21, 2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 21, 2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are in sad shape entering the 2014 season. They are undertalented and injury prone. They have roster holes to fill and not enough resources available to fill those roster holes. It’s a difficult time for even the most optimistic of Cowboys fan to be very hopeful.

In a season without many ambitious expectations or excitement, this is the perfect time to do Hard Knocks from a marketing perspective. And for HBO it’s a no-brainer as the Cowboys are absolute gold in television ratings.

Why It Works: Jason Garrett

The biggest obstacle to Hard Knocks is always the Head Coach. Let’s face it, in no way does the show give the featured team a competitive advantage. If anything is places the team at disadvantage (as mentioned earlier – exposes fringe players to other teams, opens management to second-guessing, etc…). So why in the world would Garrett agree to do such a thing?

Garrett enters 2014 as essentially a lame duck. This is his make or break year where he needs to prove something. Jerry and Stephen Jones love him but will not hesitate to use his failure as a bit of leverage whenever they can. Garrett is more agreeable now than ever before because his job is on the line.

His performance says he’s on the chopping block but his relationship with the Jones’ is working to his advantage.

Is Hard Knocks Good or Bad for Cowboys Fans

The answer depends on what each of us is looking for in 2014. If you’re a fan who thinks the Cowboys have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs and winning a championship then you should probably hate the idea.

But maybe you see the Cowboys rebuilding this year without a real shot in the postseason. You may have different feelings about the show then. I say the Dallas Cowboys make perfect sense but that doesn’t mean it’s competitively smart. Still, while I would question the logic behind Hard Knocks Dallas Cowboys I admit I would be excited to watch it knowing the Cowboys have low expectations for 2014. From a pure entertainment perspective it would be fun to see the Cowboys again but would it be worth the possible risk involved? What do you think? Would you even watch it if it happened?

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Sport DFW on twitter @TheRealSportDFW Check out more of Reid’s articles here: http://sportdfw.com/author/reidhanson/

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys Hard Knocks Jason Garrett Jerry Jones

  • Old Frog


  • SmartThinking

    I still can’t for the life of me understand why anyone in their right mind would go on national television and show millions of people they’ll never meet every piece of their dirty laundry. I guess I was just mentored differently. The important people I knew NEVER wanted anyone to know anything about them or their business, particularly where the chinks in the armor were or, even more importantly, where the bodies were buried.

    Never, never let them know what you’re thinking or what your plans are. They’ll drive themselves mad trying to figure you out while you watch them and just smile.

    • Reid Hanson

      But to owners making money is as important (if not more) than having a winning team. If losing a competitive advantage or two equals increased revenue they will consider it. Having a team on Hard Knocks is competitively moronic indeed, but it builds excitement for some fans and is thought to result in higher merchandise sales and more preseason interest.
      I agree with what you are saying but sadly owners often have different motives than the team and the fans. I have HBO so admit I would watch it if they were on – even though I don’t endorse the move.

      • SmartThinking

        Big Jones’ mental image of this Dallas franchise is perversely skewed. That’s not news. What does confirm many suspicions about the sanity of the man or, more importantly, where his real sentiments are is his comment that, even as decades old losers, Dallas commands large television audiences.

        Even if you assume that comment is factual, which, incidentally, I do not, it sure ain’t about elite level professional football. I submit that you can attract large, equally perverse television audiences when you televise a train wreck or a heavyweight cage fight or any other circus-like event that skews to the lower rungs of the human sensibility. Such is this Dallas team and what big Jones has reduced it to: just one act in a multitude of circus acts on visual display every Sunday in Cowboy’s stadium, big Jones’ over-hyped idea of Rome’s Circus Maximus.

        So, don’t blame it on the owners. Some may want to make money at all costs but not all have sold out to the almighty dollar. Consequently, you can’t lump all owners in the “crazy-assed owner” basket with big Jones. Nope. He and a couple of otherrs to a lesser extent, have a lock on “crazy-assed ownerism.”

        Exhibit A for quality management is the New England franchise owner, or San Fran, or Denver owners. The only way they go on television showing the great unwashed where all their warts are is if Goodell forces them to do it.

  • David87124

    NO WAY is this a good idea – the team will go 6-10 for sure.

  • baronmwd

    The only way i watch Hard Knocks is if Dallas is on it.