Hard Knocks: Traditional NFL preseason must go

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I tried.

I really did. But I couldn’t do it. Not all of it. There was no way in hell I was going to watch all four quarters of the Broncos-Rams preseason game on Saturday night. It was so bad. So bad.

Un.

Watch.

Able.

If there was ever evidence that the NFL preseason as we know it has run its course, it was Saturday night. It was already the Broncos fourth preseason game – and there’s still one of these stinkers to go. Across the league, it’s practically a consensus that the fourth preseason game is a joke. Imagine, in Denver, we’ve got to endure a fifth! If you’d like a breakdown of the Broncos various third and fourth string position battles, it won’t be here. There are plenty of reputable writers and outlets who are more diligent and more patient than yours truly come late August – consult them. I will freely admit that by about the middle of the second quarter, I was watching “loosely” at best.

You see Jake Butt? Think Kevin Hogan makes the team? Cody “Spit” Wadman… not so good, eh?

Um… I may or may not have missed “it.” Sorry.

You know what I didn’t miss and won’t miss tomorrow night?

Hard Knocks.

For a league that has captured the eyes, hearts and imaginations of the American sportsfan, it’s time for some innovation.

The NFL can’t take too much credit for Hard Knocks; that’s all HBO. But the globe’s most powerful league should take note of a very simple concept:

Hard Knocks > Preseason.

Amidst all the injuries, amidst all the coaches and GMs who have finally decided that it’s not worth risking a starter in preseason games three or four (or five, if you’re Vic Fangio), amidst a bunch of angry consumer who pay full price for football that isn’t even exhibition football any longer, it’s time for a change. This isn’t the ‘60s or ‘70s, where professional athletes spent the offseason guzzling Coca-Cola or smoking heaters until August, then utilized training camp and the preseason to “get in shape.” It’s 2019, where anybody who’s paid north of $1 million is too risky to risk, and anyone who’s paid $30 million gets to choose their own helmet and come and go as they please.

Preseason football? Who needs it?

Meanwhile, me and every Bronco-loving, Raider-hating and everyone in-between football fan has their DVR set every Tuesday night to capture Hard Knocks, easily the best “other than the game” programming the NFL has to offer and arguably one of the best shows on television. Even Frank Caliendo likes Hard Knocks.

Again, Hard Knocks > Preseason.

Here’s what the NFL needs to do…

1) Make the preseason three games instead of four.
2) Add mandatory – maybe one, maybe two – “joint practices” to the preseason.
3) Stick with a 16-game, regular-season schedule (don’t make it 18…that just gets messy).
4) Film it all. I mean all. Film Hard Knocks for every team… Hard Knocks X32.
5) Expand the roster to 54, maybe even 55 (let’s get crazy, you ol’ blue blood billionaire owners).
6) Expand the practice squad to 12 instead of 10.
7) Film it all. I mean all. Film Hard Knocks for every team… Hard Knocks X32.
8) Let fans vote on the player(s) who fill the 53rd (or 54th, or 55th, or 56th) roster spot.
9) Sell. The. Sh*t. Out. Of. This.

The reason the current NFL preseason is intact has very little to do with player evaluation (that can happen at camp and through a limited number of joint practices and opportunities in the preseason and regular season). It has everything to do with revenue. Current owners can just pass through that season ticket rate to its regular season tick holders. Currently, season ticket holders just eat the cost of preseason – unfortunately, whether they want them or not, it’s just rolled into their agreement. So, if the preseason was to be reduced, so too would be the total revenue enjoyed by owners. No matter how bad it is, the preseason is just to big of a money-maker.

Who am I to rake money away from 32 of the richest sunz-a-gunz on the planet?

Seriously, if you owned one of these teams and you had the ability to charge regular season prices, would you?

Sure you would. Everyone would.

So, over the next few weeks, think about this: What if you weren’t forced to watch the Raiders on Hard Knocks? What if you got to watch your own team? What if you watched the division your team played in? Or, what if you got to watch any – or every – team?

You’d watch your team and beyond. No doubt.

Now answer this: How many NFL preseason games have you watched that didn’t involve your team? Zero? Me too.

I bet this: You don’t watch a tick of preseason football, but you’d pay to watch your own team on Hard Knocks. Am I right?

That’s the thing: We can’t gripe about preseason football in the context of what’s best for us.

We have to solve the real problem: How do you replace the revenue?

Now, if the NFL wanted to bring in even more money, they’d not only sell a subscription (or various levels of subscription) to Hard Knocks, they’d add to it. Get back to that idea of expanding the rosters. Add a few spots to both the real squad and practice squad. Heck, in the next collective bargaining agreement, make those spots worth the league minimum or even below it (at least the current minimum). Now, instead of having John Elway pick who the lucky No. 53, No. 54, etc. might be, you pick that player.

You’d probably pay a little extra for that, right?

Sure you would. Owners could flip chump change to the low many on the totem poll while you and I would scrape together $14.99 to say we helped formulate our team’s roster.

Remember Ka-Juiced (Actually Devon Cajuste)? Rings a bell, doesn’t it? That’s because he was a star on last year’s Hard Knocks. He “retired” (see, never made it) in January of 2019. Think how much more interested in preseason game No. 3 or 4 you’d be if you had (practically) built a relationship with one of the final cuts (like Cajuste). Think how much more vested you’d be if you had a say in it.

Now think about Saturday night.

Yawn.

Hard Knocks is great because over the course of four or five weeks, you become interested in an NFL teams because of the people – not the positions, not the depth chart, certainly not the score of their preseason games. You can’t tell me the NFL doesn’t have the resources to fund such a concept (I bet HBO would somehow come up with the dough if the network could keep all the subscription revenue).

Build it, and they will come. And they’ll pay.

In order to fix the preseason, we’ve got to replace he revenue. Teams, owners, coaches – they don’t care about preseason games per se. Yes, they care about the ability to select the very best team possible, but if the money generated is handed over in the left hand or the right, they don’t care, so long as it’s handed over.

Solve the money problem and solve the preseason.

The school of Hard Knocks should teach us how.

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