The Raiders Need 'Hard Knocks' More Than 'Hard Knocks' Needs the Raiders

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMay 14, 2019

Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden watches during NFL football practice on Friday, May 3, 2019, at the team's training facility in Alameda, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

It's easy to see why the Raiders are perfect for HBO's Hard Knocks.

Antonio Brown. Jon Gruden. A trio of interesting first-round picks. Antonio Brown. Mike Mayock in the front office. Mark Davis in the throne room. Derek Carr at a career crossroads. Vontaze Burfict. Mister Big Chest, otherwise known as Antonio Brown.

Carr's head could explode on camera from Gruden screaming in one ear and Brown in the other. Gruden and Mayock could end an argument by plunging into the San Francisco Bay with their fingers around each other's throats. Burfict could commit the first-ever unnecessary roughness penalty during July warm-ups. Davis' effort to move the team to Las Vegas adds a Godfather/Howard Hughes vibe. Anyone could go rogue at any time. The Raiders on Hard Knocks would be appointment television.

It's much harder to see why Hard Knocks, with all the potential drama and conflict it brings to an organization, is perfect for the Raiders. But the Raiders need the cable reality series more than the series needs them precisely because of all of that potential drama and conflict.

The Raiders need to know how their colorful characters will react to the spotlight, so they should welcome as much spotlight as they can get, as soon as they can get it.

The Raiders are one of five teams that can be compelled to appear on the 14th season of the popular cable reality series. Recent playoff teams, teams with new head coaches and teams featured within the last 10 years can opt out of participation, and most do, because NFL organizations that restrict local beat writers to watching 30 minutes of stretching during three-day rookie minicamps aren't exactly eager to let a television crew install microphones in meeting rooms.

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Of the five eligible teams, only the Raiders promise more drama than the typical episode of Pit Bulls and Parolees:

Detroit Lions: No one even wants to watch the Lions play football, let alone take part in a reality show.

San Francisco 49ers: They would have been great last year, when Jimmy Garoppolo was trending. This year's most compelling storyline would involve GM John Lynch trying to balance a budget spreadsheet.

Washington Redskins: Five weeks of Adrian Peterson pushing truck tires up hills while team owner Dan Snyder takes viewers on a tour of his $100 million yacht. Come to think of it, that sounds mildly entertaining.

New York Giants: Eli Manning and Daniel Jones spend August discussing their mutual respect and professionalism while tossing footballs to humans not named Odell Beckham Jr. Ho-hum.

Oakland Raiders: Game of Thrones meets Empire meets Mad Men meets Friday Night Lights meets Child's Play. Inject this directly into my temples so my eyeballs can bathe in it.

Each of these organizations knows that Hard Knocks has the potential to project a coach, player, owner or organization in a negative light. The best example of that came last year, when cameras captured Hue Jackson shutting down visibly irritated offensive coordinator Todd Haley during a coaching meeting, pulling back the veil on a backroom conflict that was rapidly coming to a boil.

While Antonio Brown appeared to be excited about his trade to Oakland, the scrutiny of television while in training camp might reveal what he thinks of his new teammates.
While Antonio Brown appeared to be excited about his trade to Oakland, the scrutiny of television while in training camp might reveal what he thinks of his new teammates.Ben Margot/Associated Press

All organizations dread that sort of exposure. But the Raiders, with their high-strung personalities at all levels of the franchise, would benefit more than any other team from a dose of mass-media immersion therapy.

The Raiders need to know right away if Brown is likely to go Krakatoa and rip current Raiders teammates or former Steelers teammates at the first provocation. If Brown pops off or goes AWOL while the cameras are rolling at the start of camp, the Raiders have a better chance of getting ahead of the situation than if, say, he goes ham on Twitter after a bad game by Carr or two straight Raiders losses.

If Carr is indeed in danger of being crushed between a temperamental receiver and an impatient head coach, Hard Knocks could force the Raiders to get real about the situation.

If Mayock and Gruden get caught on camera flinging office equipment at each other's heads during roster cutdowns, it will force both sides to either change how they interact or admit that things aren't working.

As bad as Hue Jackson and the Browns looked on the show last year, exposure of the rancorous Jackson-Haley clash set the stage for the sweeping organizational changes that turned the franchise around a few weeks later. A little cable-TV dirty laundry could force the Raiders to make similar decisive changes that would help the team in the long run.

And if the Raiders can go through a quiet workaday training camp with no Brown eruptions or Chucky sprees under the scrutiny of television cameras, it will prove to everyone—including the organization itself—that the Raiders won't turn into Arkham Asylum the moment things go wrong in the regular season.

NFL organizations don't think this way, of course. They value secrecy for its own sake, which often allows problems to fester while everyone pretends everything is A-OK. A little privacy in a workplace is a great thing, of course, until it becomes an excuse to not address real conflicts and problems.

If factions in an NFL organization are fighting, they present a united front to the public while working at cross purposes. If the coach is frustrated with the quarterback, he mumbles press-conference platitudes until the day Nathan Peterman winds up under center. Everything is just hunky-dory with the flamboyant receiver until he is on the trading block and blowing up on Instagram.

By the time everyone stops pretending to get along, the roster is a mess, time and money have been squandered, trade values diminished, reputations and careers tarnished.

The Raiders can try this "nothing to see here" approach, but no one will believe them. The personalities are too prickly, the storylines too juicy. And the stakes—a franchise on the move, Gruden's reputation and $100 million contract, Brown's public perception and legacy, Carr's effort to avoid a slide down to quarterback skid row—are too high to pretend that there is no risk of spontaneous thermonuclear detonation.

Derek Carr's relationship with Gruden may not improve after a tour on Hard Knocks, no matter how entertaining their interactions would be for viewers.
Derek Carr's relationship with Gruden may not improve after a tour on Hard Knocks, no matter how entertaining their interactions would be for viewers.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The Raiders should treat Hard Knocks as an opponent, not a pest. Appearing on the program will be like scrimmaging against their own demons and worst instincts throughout the summer. The television cameras can act like an organizational MRI, exposing the strains that can lead to tears and fractures if left untreated.

If the Raiders can beat Hard Knocks, they know they won't beat themselves when games start to matter.

And if Hard Knocks beats them, what chances would the Raiders have against real opponents?