Oct 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Dallas Cowboys ownerJerry 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
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:
- If a team made the playoffs in either of the past 2 seasons they are exempt
- If the team has a new head coach they are exempt
- 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
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?
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
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?
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