‘Hard Knocks’ Wraps as HBO, Jets Duck NFL Cuts

Maybe next year, Hard Knocks will be forced to film paint drying. This season proved it could handle that challenge.

It wasn’t quite footage of curing lacquer, but with five minutes left in HBO’s time behind the scenes with the New York Jets, the show cut to an unidentified staffer inside the team’s practice facility tasked with posting images from each of the team’s games along a central hallway.

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“When you’re in the building,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said in the show, explaining the philosophy behind the art display, “you’re writing a story.”

Saleh clearly understands the power of narrative, even if he didn’t let film crews capture the entire plot of the Jets’ training camp. Twenty-one years after Joe Douglas, then a lowly player personnel assistant, was shown waking players up so they could be cut on the Ravens’ inaugural season of Hard Knocks, the current Jets general manager revealed recently that it was initially Saleh’s request that the program not display those painful moments this time around.

Instead, Tuesday’s finale showed two undrafted free agent wide receivers, Xavier Gipson and Jason Brownlee, receiving word that they’d made the team. Meanwhile, cameras stayed outside while defensive lineman Tanzel Smart came just short in his attempt to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. In an interview afterwards, he appears ready to leave New York for playing time elsewhere, though he ultimately winds up on the Jets’ practice squad.

Even though this season delivered little behind-the-scenes footage of the team’s brain trust or its new star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it still won over viewers. Thanks in part to the growth of the Max streaming service, the first episode of this season is already the most-watched installment in series history, according to Peter Schrager.

And the climactic scene landed too, posters and all, with help from clips of Rodgers gathered across the preseason replayed over music by the Black Pumas. Ultimately, this season proved that HBO and NFL Films can put out a better hype video than just about anyone in the game.

So far, there’s been no indication of Hard Knocks In Season returning after following the Arizona Cardinals last year and Indianapolis Colts in 2021. But this August, Hard Knocks put plenty of highlights on tape—enough to prove it deserves another invite somewhere else next year. Throughout the season, the show gave ample evidence of its ability to shine a favorable spotlight on an NFL organization. In 2014, a team ought to at least give the cameras hallway access.

Three parting thoughts on the last episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets

  1. Aaron Rodgers thinks he saw a UFO right around the time he was drafted in 2005. It explains a lot, really.

  1. Sitting behind an NFL player at a broadway show has to be exciting… until the play starts. I hope the group stuck behind a whole gaggle of Jets at a recent MJ the Musical performance were given some tickets to Monday night’s game, at least.

  2. One of the few glimpses viewers got into Saleh’s office included shots of a wooden chess board on his coffee table. Having gone down the internet rabbit hole on the topic, I can report that, while others have said Saleh nearly reached the expert chess rating level of 2000, he says he’s only ever gotten as high as roughly 1800. And these days, with kids distracting him while playing online at home, his rating hovers around 1500. Still, I would’ve loved to have seen him take his QB on over the board.

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