Sean Pendergast

Ranking the NFL Teams That Must Say Yes to Hard Knocks

Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars may wind up on HBO's Hard Knocks this year.
Leonard Fournette and the Jaguars may wind up on HBO's Hard Knocks this year. Photo by Eric Sauseda
It's always fun to think back to the summer of 2015, when the cameras and crews from HBO and NFL Films descended upon Houston to give us some of the best insight we've ever had to the Houston Texans' operations. Given how central Rick Smith and others were to that season of Hard Knocks, it feels like it was eons ago, back in a time and place where Bill O'Brien's power grab was nonexistent, or at least in tis infancy.

Times have changed, and the Texans are now the polar opposite in terms of transparency, operating with a seeming disdain for any open windows into the nuts and bolts of the operation, with Cal McNair's recent statement clarifying the roles of O'Brien and jack Easterby as the only window into who's steering things over on Kirby.

It will likely be a long time, if ever, that Hard Knocks returns to Houston. Certainly, it will never happen during the Reign of O'Brien and Easterby. However, some team will give us that window into their preparations for 2020. Likely, they will be forced to do so. As we outline annually, the league and HBO have a set of criteria that, if teams fit the description, then they must say "YES" if asked to participate in the show.

The criteria is as follows — to get out of doing Hard Knocks, a team has to have a new head coach, or have been in the playoffs within the last two years, or have previously appeared on Hard Knocks within the last ten years. A team that doesn’t fit into any of those categories must say "YES" if requested to be the subject team of the show.

Of course, perhaps a team volunteers, but if they don't, here are the five teams (listed in reverse order of my preference) that would be forced to do Hard Knocks, if asked:

This would have been more fun this past summer, when Tom Coughlin was still in the building and Jalen Ramsey was still a Jaguar. As of right now, the most intriguing Jaguar storylines are a possible QB controversy between Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew, and the contractual situation of Leonard Fournette. Also, this is the one team most rumored to be on the move, given their owner also owns Wembley Stadium in London.

Again, this would have been more fun last summer when a torn achilles forced head coach Matt Patricia to tool around on an ATV at training camp, including during the inter-squad scrimmaged in Houston, where he almost ran over several media members over those two days. Nothing super exciting about the Lions, though.

Things pick up a little bit here. My guess is that John Elway would be a central figure of a Bronco HK season, and that might force him to answer for some of his personnel moves made since they won a Super Bowl five years ago. Also, this team is in a bit of ownership turmoil since Pat Bowlen passed away last summer. We would get to see old friend Kareem Jackson, and also see Drew Lock take the reins of this franchise. You all remember Drew Lock, right? The guy who threw for like 6,000 yards against the Texans in Week 14 last season? Yeah, him.

Ok, now business is REALLY picking up. Kyler Murray in year two, Kliff Kingsbury in year two, Larry Fitzgerald in year fifty. The Cardinals are a sneaky interesting team, and with some pickups this offseason, and a QB still on a rookie deal for a few more years, I would love to see how they go about their business. Kingsbury did a better job in his first season as an NFL head coach than I thought he would.

Because of that rule where teams who make the playoffs generally don't have to be on Hard Knocks, we rarely see blue blood franchises on this list. But the Steelers last made the postseason in 2017, have never been on the show, and never fire head coaches, so here we are. Again, last season may have been better, in the post Antonio Brown-Le'Veon Bell era, but watching Ben Roethlisberger retake the wheel on his franchise would be fun, and we get some Watt action! T.J.!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast