The Cleveland Browns will be featured on this year's season of Hard Knocks, the NFL and HBO announced Thursday.
The Browns were one of six teams that met the show's three criteria for selection. Head coach Hue Jackson is not in his first year with the team (it's his third). They haven't made the playoffs in the last two years (last playoff berth: 2002). Finally, they haven't been on the show in the last ten years (never been on the show). The 49ers, Broncos, Chargers, Ravens and Redskins were the other five eligible teams, but the Browns were ultimately selected, a decision that both team and network appear excited about.
“The stakes are tremendously high in Cleveland, which make the Browns an ideal partner on Hard Knocks,” NFL Films senior executive Ross Ketover said in HBO's announcement. “We’re looking forward to showing NFL fans around the world what the Haslams, John Dorsey, Hue Jackson and the coaching staff are doing to rebuild the team and reboot one of the most iconic franchises in sports.”
“I’ve been a part of Hard Knocks and when you experience it first hand, you come to appreciate the inside look it really gives fans,” Jackson said. “We are excited about what we are building within our organization and feel good about the progress we have made this offseason."
The training camp insider series has been tremendously successful for the network, hauling in 16 Sports Emmys in its first 12 seasons. But success for the football teams featured on the show has been a little more fleeting.
Five of the 12 teams documented improved their record in the season immediately following the show, five finished with a worse record and the last two had exactly the same record. In addition, five of the 12 teams made the playoffs in that next season - but four of those five teams already had winning records the season before HBO showed up. What all that means is there's no, well, hard evidence that having Hard Knocks around helps or hurts - but it certainly can't hurt the Browns, who have one total win over the last two seasons and are fresh off the fifth winless season in NFL history.
How have the teams appearing in the first dozen editions of Hard Knocks? There's some good, some bad, and a fair amount of ugly.
2001 - Baltimore Ravens
2000 record: 12-4 2001 record: 10-6
What better team for HBO to profile in Hard Knocks' debut than the reigning Super Bowl champs? The show had plenty of storylines to choose from: the quarterback competition ultimately won by Elvis Grbac, first-round pick Todd Heap's adjustment to the NFL and competition with Shannon Sharpe and the team's recovery from the season-ending injury in training camp to running back Jamal Lewis. A Ravens team loaded with future Hall of Famers on defense (Rod Woodson, Ray Lewis) and future head coaches on the defensive staff (Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Jack Del Rio) finished second in the division and got to the second round of the playoffs before falling to division champ Pittsburgh 13-3.
2002 - Dallas Cowboys
2001 record: 5-11 2002 record: 5-11
A far cry from the Super Bowl champs featured in the previous season of the show, the Cowboys were fresh off consecutive 5-11 seasons and last-place divisional finishes. Hard Knocks didn't end up changing the team's fortunes, but there was still some intrigue to cover, most notably the quarterback battle between incumbent Quincy Carter and new addition Chad Hutchinson, as well as running back Emmitt Smith's preparation for his chance to break the league's rushing record. The 2002 season didn't go so well: Hutchinson and Carter swapped in and out, the Cowboys finished 5-11 and last in the division again, and Jerry Jones recruited Bill Parcells for the head coaching job during the season while the position was still filled - though not for long - by Dave Campo. Still, Smith did break Walter Payton's rushing yards record in Week 8 and scored his 125th career rushing touchdown later on the same drive. It would be his 13th and final year in Dallas.
2007 - Kansas City Chiefs
2006 record: 9-7 2007 record: 4-12
After a few years off, Hard Knocks returned to profile a Chiefs team that made the playoffs the previous year under first-year head coach Herm Edwards. But that success would not be replicated: longtime quarterback Trent Green, who spearheaded one of the league's best offenses for years under former coach Dick Vermeil, was traded to Miami, leaving the door open for Damon Huard or Brodie Croyle. Both first-round wideout Dwayne Bowe and running back Larry Johnson held out at the start of training camp, and former halfback Priest Holmes, sensing a potential opening, tried to make a comeback from a spine injury the year before. Bowe and Johnson ultimately returned and were big contributors, but Holmes, a three-time All-Pro, played in only four games and neither quarterback had any success, sending the Chiefs spiraling with nine straight losses to close the year.
2008 - Dallas Cowboys
2007 record: 13-3 2008 record: 9-7
Fresh off a share of the best record in the NFC (but a first-round playoff loss to the Giants) and a record 13 players named to the Pro Bowl, America's Team was placed back under the lights of Hard Knocks. The following year went a bit differently. "Pacman" Jones, who already had a history as colorful as his nickname, was brought in to shore up the secondary, along with draft picks Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Remember all that drama with Bill Parcells from the 2002 season? Well, he's long gone by this point: the Cowboys won 13 games in 2007 in their first year without him, and then won the first three games of 2008 under Wade Phillips but lost three of the final four, finishing third in the division and out of the playoffs.
2009 - Cincinnati Bengals
2008 record: 4-11-1 2009 record: 10-6
The 2009 season of Hard Knocks provided the rare example of success for both team and show: HBO saw its best ratings of the program to date and brought in two Emmys, while the Bengals became the first documented team to snag a playoff berth after missing out the year before. These Bengals provided some fabulous fodder for the film crews: quarterback Carson Palmer's recovery from injury, all the antics that came with wide receiver Chad "Ochocinco" and first-round lineman Andre Smith's contract holdout. Despite the drama and losing three of the final four games of the season, Marvin Lewis' Bengals won all six games against divisional foes and made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 before losing to the Jets in the first round.
2010 - New York Jets
2009 record: 9-7 2010 record: 11-5
The Jets were a perfect subject for Hard Knocks' sixth season. The series garnered high ratings again and between Rex Ryan's notorious, impassioned speeches, Mark Sanchez's ascendance to star status, LaDainian Tomlinson now in the offensive mix and Antonio Cromartie failing to remember the names of his many children, it's not hard to see why. And the Jets followed up the preseason drama with regular season success, improving their record from the previous year, upsetting the first-place Patriots in the second round and reaching the Championship Game again before falling to the Steelers. The team hasn't made the playoffs since.
2012 - Miami Dolphins
2011 record: 6-10 2012 record: 7-9
Hard Knocks took 2011 due to the NFL's labor dispute but came back in 2012. The Dolphins had a new head coach, a new quarterback, and, theoretically at least, new hope. Rookie coaches are precluded from Hard Knocks' coverage now, but former Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's succession of Tony Sparano was an easy storyline to get behind. Even easier was yet another Miami quarterback battle: after Chad Henne was left unsigned, the Dolphins brought in incumbent Matt Moore, free agent David Garrard and first-round pick Ryan Tannehill to compete for the gig. Elsewhere, Hard Knocks famously caught the meeting where GM Jeff Ireland informed safety Vontae Davis he had been traded to the Colts on camera, but not even that drama could spur the Dolphins to success: the team finished .500 or worse in each of Philbin's three-plus years at the helm.
2013 - Cincinnati Bengals
2012 record: 10-6 2013 record: 11-5
The Bengals were back on the small screen, but without the big personalities of guys like "Ochocinco," Hard Knocks focused much more on the off-the-field aspects of some of Marvin Lewis' squad: defensive lineman Margus Hunt, a former track and field star born in Estonia but still very new to football and the U.S. had to adjust to his new life, and linebacker Aaron Maybin had to adjust to the pressures of being a top draft pick while balancing his passion for art. The 11th-overall pick of the Bills in 2009, Maybin never made the Bengals roster and soon fell out of football. Lewis, Mike Zimmer and VontazeBurfict led one of the NFL's best defenses back to the playoffs before a first-round loss to the Chargers. It was the third of what would be five straight losses in the divisional round.
2014 - Atlanta Falcons
2013 record: 4-12 2014 record: 6-10
The Falcons went from a 13-3 record and a spot in the NFC Championship Game to a 4-12 record and a spot towards the cellar of the conference. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were firmly entrenched as the team's stars so the show focused on the coaching staff trying to revamp a shoddy defense, rusher Kroy Biermann trying to recover from a season-ending injury, and a few rookies trying to carve out a role. None of that led to success for the Falcons. They finished third in the division and out of the playoffs again.
2015 - Houston Texans
2014 record: 9-7 2015 record: 9-7
The Texans were selected as the subject of the tenth season of Hard Knocks. Bill O'Brien added Vince Wilfork and reintroduced Jadeveon Clowney to a solid defense and built a defensive powerhouse around J.J. Watt. Hard Knocks chronicled Clowney's road to recovery and David Quessenberry's battle with cancer. As usual with the Texans and with the show, there was a quarterback battle to wade through: Brian Hoyer ultimately emerged in front of the pack, but Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden all challenged at times. With DeAndre Hopkins dominating no matter who was throwing him the ball, the Texans equaled their record from the previous year, but this time made the playoffs. It was the second of three straight 9-7 campaigns, and the first of back-to-back division titles and playoff appearances.
2016 - Los Angeles Rams
2015 record: 7-9 2016 record: 4-12
The Rams had been a thoroughly average team for years under Jeff Fisher, but the team's return to Los Angeles after 21 years in St. Louis made for perhaps the easiest and most compelling offseason storyline in the league. The team's move and adjustment to L.A. life featured heavily on the show, as did the development of heralded #1 overall pick Jared Goff and Fisher's release of Nick Foles over the phone. Goff struggled in his rookie year and backup Case Keenum wasn't much better, and the Rams finished with the worst offensive numbers in the league despite a solid season from Todd Gurley. The Rams won just one game at their new home and won just once over their final nine games, leading to Fisher's ouster after Week 14.
2017 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016 record: 9-7 2017 record: 5-11
Hard Knocks focused heavily on the changes Dirk Koetter made in his second year in control, the adjustments Jameis Winston made in his third year under center and all the influence Gerald McCoy had on a young defense. Winston regressed. Running back Doug Martin continued to have issues. Not even McCoy's sixth straight Pro Bowl appearance could salvage a defense that allowed the most yards in the league. The Bucs ended up back in the basement for the seventh time in nine seasons, and still searching for their first playoff appearance since 2007.