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In 18 seasons of preseason Hard Knocks, 18 teams have avoided the show

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As the Jets prepare to be the first team in the history of the Hard Knocks series to submit against their will, it's worth noting that most teams have managed to avoid the assignment altogether.

As noted by Mike Reiss of ESPN.com in his excellent Sunday rundown of Patriots-related news and notes, the Pats are one of 18 teams that have yet to have Hard Knocks at their doorstep.

That was a surprise, so I went down the rabbit hole of Hard Knocks history. It started in 2001, with the Ravens. That was a pretty big deal, given that the Ravens were the defending Super Bowl champions.

The Cowboys did it in 2002. In 2003, the show didn't happen, because producers couldn't find the "right team" to do it. HBO and NFL Films didn't find that right team until the Chiefs in 2007. The Cowboys did it again in 2008, the Bengals in 2009, and the Jets in 2010.

The show didn't happen in 2011, due to the lockout. The show returned in 2012 with the Dolphins. In 2013, the Bengals did it again.

Then, in October 2013, the NFL adopted the formula aimed at avoiding a situation in which no one would do it. Three factors exempt a team: (1) having a new head coach; (2) making the playoffs in either of the two most recent seasons; (3) submitting to the show in the past ten years. Still, every year, someone agrees to do it — before this year.

In 2014, the Falcons did it. In 2015, it was the Texans. For 2016, the Rams welcomed NFL Films for their first season in L.A.

In 2017, the Bucs did it. In 2018, the Browns. 2019, Raiders. In 2020, the Chargers and Rams shared the assignment. In 2021, the Cowboys did it a third time. In 2022, the Lions were the subject of the show.

That's 14 teams in 18 seasons of the show. Throw in the Colts and Cardinals during the recent in-season installments of the show, and half of the league has cooperated with HBO and NFL Films. Which means (math is hard) that half have not.

For 2023, the league for the first time mandated the assignment to a team that didn't want to do it, invoking the formula developed nearly a decade ago. How common will that become in the future?

Reiss mentioned the show in part because, if the Patriots don't make the playoffs and if they keep Bill Belichick as head coach, the Patriots can be compelled to do it.

Here's a different question, if the league hopes to retain the viability of the show. Why do teams that made the playoffs in either of the last two seasons get a pass? Now that 14 teams make it, the formula essentially guarantees that it will be a team that has slipped toward the zone of chronic dysfunction.

Maybe that should be dropped as a factor, with the only exemptions for teams that have a first-year head coach, and teams that have done the show within the past 10 years?

Then there's the question of the in-season Hard Knocks. For now, the NFL and HBO are finding volunteers. Will there be a formula for that, too?

Whatever the league does, the upcoming edition of preseason Hard Knocks shows that the league will need to be less willing to wait for volunteers and more willing to take hostages.

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