Why ‘Hard Knocks’ in 2020 sounds like a bad idea, especially with boring Rams and Chargers

The NFL and its teams are facing a major challenge in trying to keep players and essential personnel safe during training camp amid the coronavirus pandemic. That’s become a greater concern with more players, such as Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Jackson, recently testing positive for COVID-19.

One thing that shouldn’t take priority, then, is putting out another season of “Hard Knocks” on HBO. Although the NFL Films documentary series has been a compelling all-access pass in August, the complications tied to camp in 2020 call for a one-year hiatus.

Going forward with “Hard Knocks” might feel different if one were scheduled to get an in-depth look at Tom Brady’s first training camp with the Buccaneers, or at the very least, what hyped rookie QBs Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa do early to get settled with the Bengals or the Dolphins.

But this year, the featured teams are the Rams and Chargers, a special two-team edition now all from Los Angeles, from Thousand Oaks to Costa Mesa. The NFL keeps trying to sell L.A. and up the ante on “Hard Knocks,” but is the wrong time for an expanded experiment with, quite frankly, two of the league’s least popular teams.

Think about the buzz surrounding Baker Mayfield’s rookie camp with the dysfunctional Browns two years ago. Then “Hard Knocks” landed the Raiders last year, full of Jon Gruden “knocking on wood” and Antonio Brown checking out. Now consider the subjects for the upcoming 15th season.

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The Rams have Aaron Donald leading their defense, like they did when we last saw them on “Hard Knocks” only four years ago. But this is a recent Super Bowl team quickly losing momentum and what are we really getting beyond a few Jalen Ramsey soundbites?

The Chargers have rookie QB Justin Herbert, but he’s not Burrow or Tagovailoa. Besides, Tyrod Taylor is expected to make it a non-battle at the most important position. There are plenty of solid players on their roster and Anthony Lynn is a very likable coach, but there are not exactly explosive personalities, as defensive stars such as Joey Bosa and Derwin James speak louder with their play.

You can bet neither team really wants this kind of attention, either, conducting camp after the locked-down nature of the offseason leading up to it. With camps much shorter than they used to be, this year, they serve as a crash course, a series of compressed sessions of trying to get teammates on the same page.

The NFL might be forced into a being a television-only product in 2020, but why force anything like this before the season? The NFL should be set to limit how many people are working around teams instead of bringing more people into the mix.

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The league says that the film crew for “Hard Knocks” will be undergoing the same testing and procedures the players and coaches do to ensure their safety while closing following them around. That still feels like a unnecessary layer to add during a most unusual year.

The ratings for the Rams’ last season of “Hard Knocks,” focusing on their move to L.A., weren’t high. There simply won’t be the same national interest in them and the Chargers that there was for the Raiders. For all the further logistics “Hard Knocks” requires, that seems to be introducing unnecessary risk when the rewards aren’t great.

The biggest storyline for the Rams and the Chargers in 2020 hasn’t been what’s going on with their teams or excitement over their new shared multibillion-dollar stadium. It’s been their unveiling of new looks. Been there, done that with hating on the Rams’ logo and crushing over the Chargers’ uniforms.

Doubling up on L.A. before the pandemic concerns already felt like another forced attempt to sell the NFL’s second-biggest market. Remaining hard-and-fast with “Hard Knocks” now seems more league-serving than anything else.