For the Giants, offseason Hard Knocks seems to be more trouble than it’s worth

I’ve watched the first episode of the new offseason version of Hard Knockstwice. It’s compelling to me, but not for the reasons the producers — or the team on which the show focuses — likely intended.

After watching it yesterday, a thought began to rattle inside my brain. An idea that sprang from one word.


Not as in “why have the show?” When it comes to Hard Knocksthe league is committed to finding new places in the pizza into which cheese can be stuffed. But why be the team that opens itself up to the cameras and microphones for the weeks and months during which plenty of sensitive strategic conversations occur and important decisions are made?

After sleeping on it and realizing that there isn’t much else going on today, I decided to re-watch the whole episode and come up with a list of reasons why this might not be the best decision the Giants ever made.

1. Private versus public comments.

Every team tells lies to the media. Those of us who cover the sport know this. We accept it. Certain things can’t be laid out for the world to see.

But that doesn’t mean that teams should flock to expose the disconnect between what they say behind closed doors and what they speak into a microphone at a press conference or during an interview.

Exhibit A. At the Scouting Combine, G.M. Joe Schoen created the clear impression on PFT Live that no decisions had been made about running back Saquon Barkley, and that anything was possible.

All options are on the table,” Schoen said. “I’m not saying we’re going to franchise him or not franchise him, but everything’s on the table.”

The first episode of Hard Knocks makes it clear that this wasn’t the case. They weren’t going to tag him. They talked about it. They pondered the possibility of tagging and trading him. Before the Combine began, however, it was clear that they were going to let him hit the market.

That’s not a criticism of Schoen. Teams always conceal their true intentions, for a variety of strategic reasons. That’s all the more reason to keep the things said behind the scenes (wait for it) behind the scenes.

2. Sensitive footage.

One of the longstanding concerns about preseason Hard Knocks (and one of the primary reasons for Bill Belichick’s refusal to ever do it) comes from the fact that, beyond whatever makes it into the show, NFL Films will have plenty of content that ends up on the cutting room floor.

For offseason Hard Knocksthere’s a lot more time that elapses between the harvesting of the footage and the editing of it for broadcast. Hours of meetings and conversations that for decades have been secret were captured by NFL Films.

Who had access to that information? What might have been leaked to contacts with other teams about the Giants’ plans in free agency or the draft?

Beyond the potential competitive impact if someone from NFL Films blabbed to someone from another team, the information gathered by NFL Films could easily be coopted for gambling purposes. Sports books generate odds based on a player’s next team or who will be drafted and when.

There’s no reason to think anything inappropriate occurred. But there’s no way to know it didn’t. If this effort hadn’t been undertaken, it couldn’t.

3. Critical comments.

In defending quarterback Daniel Jones, Schoen made comments critical of the team’s offensive line. Although Schoen’s remarks contained a certain element of nuance (he was mainly criticizing the performance of backups), that could be lost on the men who play center, guard, and tackle. They might believe they were called out, and in turn embarrassed by, the General Manager.

Why allow such candid assessments to be publicly consumed? Why create a situation that might require the team to do damage control with players or their agents during the only lull on the calendar?

4. Owner involvement.

Most owners are very involved in team affairs. And most owners prefer to conceal that from the customers.

It’s long been believed that Giants co-owner John Mara is very involved with his team’s football operation. Based on the first episode, he clearly had a role in the conversations about whether to keep Saquon Barkley.

That’s every owner’s prerogative. However, it will become difficult for owners to keep their level of input under wraps if/when their teams get the offseason Hard Knocks assignment — and if/when the episodes are edited in a way that reveals owner involvement.

5. Freudian slips.

With so much footage from which to choose, the editing process becomes critical. Every word, every facial expression, every expression of body language needs to be reviewed and considered.

For example, at one point director of player personnel Tim McDonnell (grandson of team founder Wellington Mara and nephew of John Mara) makes this comment when discussing the team’s offensive identity if Barkley leaves in free agency: “Quarterback, if it’s Daniel, depends on the run game.”

If it’s Daniel? If it’s Daniel?

It was widely believed that the Giants considered their options at the position. That they considered drafting a new quarterback. But for McDonnell’s stray comment, however, that vibe didn’t come through in the first episode of Hard Knocks.

And for good reason. The Giants have decided to love the one they’re with. Ideally, then, they’ll edit all episodes of Hard Knocks to include only the interactions that support Jones — and not any conversations that would reveal consideration of a plan to get rid of him. Under that standard, someone blundered by allowing McDonnell’s comment to make it to the final cut.

Of course, if they’d drafted a quarterback, the editing for the first episode would have gone very differently. It’ll be interesting to see what makes it into future episodes, as it relates to their deliberations at the quarterback position.

Now that they’re keeping him for at least another year, they need to be careful to omit anything that would suggest they possibly didn’t want him.

6. Internal disagreements.

In the first personnel meeting after the 2023 season ended, one of the biggest topics was the plan for Barkley. Director of pro scouting Chris Rossetti said that Barkley is “still relatively young” and that he still have “explosive traits.”

“When he gets going, he’s still a load to bring down,” Rossetti adds.

His next comment turned out to be prescient: “Put him behind Philly offensive line, there might be value to another team that they’d be willing to kind of give up a pick or an asset to get him.”

Later in the episode, as a group of executives gather in Schoen’s office to talk about Barkley, it seems as if Rossetti tries to fight a losing battle to keep Barkley — or at a minimum to tag and trade him.

Here’s the back and forth between Rossetti and Schoen:

“Franchising and trading him I don’t think is realistic,” Schoen says.

“Are we positive that nobody is gonna pay him that kind of money?” Rossetti asks.

“Who would you say would go sign a running back to that dollar amount?”

“I mean, anyone that has money to spend.”

“There’s a lot of running backs in free agency.”

“Yeah, but are they any potential difference makers, really, after you watch the film?”

Others chime in after that, and Rossetti apparently decides he has said enough. Multiple shots of Rossetti suggest that he’s perhaps struggling with whether to push back even harder in that setting. Throw in the fact that it was all being recorded for potential use on HBO, and it might have made Rossetti even more reluctant to stand on the table for keeping Saquon.

That’s the key here. Beyond the fact that the Giants gain nothing by revealing their internal debate about Barkley to the world, the presence of cameras might have caused Rossetti to bite his tongue for fear of saying too much.

What if he’d been more passionate? What if he said what he apparently was thinking?

Barkley is too good to let him walk away for nothing.

Given the speed with which the Eagles (as Rossetti foresaw it) moved to sign Barkley, the Giants might have gotten something for him in trade. They also might have been better off to keep him, recognizing that he’s good enough to transcend the notion that competent running backs can be found anywhere and everywhere.

For all those reasons and for others I’m not smart enough to figure out, it doesn’t seem very smart for the Giants — or any team — to welcome cameras and microphones into meetings that need to be completely candid and fully confidential. And it will be very interesting to study the contents of the remaining episodes of the show.

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