Why and how the NFL, HBO selected the Bears as subject of ‘Hard Knocks’

Why and how the NFL, HBO selected the Bears as subject of ‘Hard Knocks’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The NFL, NFL Films and Max announced Thursday that the Bears will be this offseason’s subject of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” documentary, giving viewers insider access to the team’s training camp this summer.

How did they come to this conclusion?

The “Hard Knocks” documentary, which started in 2001, is quite the polarizing chronicle around the NFL. Because HBO is granted such unprecedented access into the subject’s building, it’s become widely scrutinized around the league as a distraction to a team’s training camp.

Even recently, the Bears have made it clear they wish not to be a part of the documentary.

“In terms of being in favor of it, there are some distractions that come along with it,” Poles said on ESPN 1000 on May 4. “But it’s one of those things that you learn in this league is that you adjust and adapt to whatever shows up. If it’s here, we’re rolling with it. If it’s not, we’ll keep it moving.”

“We’re told there is some interest in other teams being on the program and we welcome that interest,” Chairman George McCaskey said at the NFL Owner’s meetings in Orlando in March.

But, because of the general apathy regarding the documentary, the league has criteria in place to force a team into participation based on their qualifications of said criteria.

To force a team to participate, a team must meet these three criteria:

1) The team does not have a new head coach

2) The team has not made the playoffs in the previous two seasons

3) The team hasn’t been on “Hard Knocks” in the past 10 years

Only three teams qualified under the above criteria this offseason: the Broncos, Saints and Bears. The Bears have employed head coach Matt Eberflus for two seasons, they have not made the playoffs since 2020 and this appearance will mark the franchise’s first time on the documentary.

That leads us to why the Bears were ultimately chosen.

Quite simply, the Bears, as a team, carry one of the most intriguing storylines of any team in the NFL.

The Bears, and the NFL, just capped off the 2024 NFL Draft in late April. There, the Bears stole the show, drafting “generational talent” Caleb Williams to succeed widely-appreciated Justin Fields as the team’s new quarterback, and Rome Odunze, one of the draft’s most talented wide receivers, with the No. 9 pick.

Not to mention, the team made a flurry of offseason moves, including the acquisitions of Keenan Allen, D’Andre Swift, Gerald Everett and Kevin Byard. They also re-signed Jaylon Johnson to one of the top cornerback contracts in the NFL.

All of this comes after two chaotic seasons for the Bears. In 2022, they owned the league’s worst record, giving them the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. They traded that pick for a haul of picks — one that got them Williams with the Panthers’ No. 1 pick — and DJ Moore.

Last season, the Bears got off to a 1-4 start. They inhaled painful losses to the Packers during opening week (38-20), the Buccaneers, the Chiefs (41-20 with Taylor Swift in attendance) and the Broncos (blew a 21-point lead at home).

The drama didn’t stop there. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams unexpectedly resigned from his position, leaving head coach Matt Eberflus out to dry; he took over defensive play-calling. The Bears also fired running backs coach David Walker after unorderly workplace behavior.

But on the back end, the Bears finished their season 5-1 with five straight home wins. Their defense slotted in the top five for scoring in the final few weeks of the season, ending the year on a strong note. For that, Eberflus secured his job as the team’s head coach, despite the chaos.

Not everyone was safe, however. The Bears cut ties with Luke Getsy and several members of their offensive staff. They replaced Getsy with Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, known best for his help rejuvenating Geno Smith‘s career. The Bears also hired Eric Washington as their defensive coordinator.

This is all to say, the Bears are inarguably the most captivating, intriguing storyline of the three teams eligible to be forced into “Hard Knocks,” and maybe even the most intriguing story in the NFL. The only outcome that would’ve potentially kept the Bears from participating is another team volunteering to be the subject, which is most certainly a rarity.

It’s undeniable the Bears have a more enthralling story to tell than those of the Broncos and Saints. And because of the NFL’s “Hard Knocks” participation criteria, and the Bears’ growing optimism to put tallies in the win column after two drama-filled seasons, they are the perfect subject for this offseason’s documentary.

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