Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment
Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment

‘Draft Day’ Reality Checks

The Kevin Costner movie had unprecedented access to capture the inner workings of the NFL draft and how front office executives go about their business. I lived that life for a decade—here’s what Hollywood got right and wrong

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·

[Ed. Note: Our apologies if the headlines weren’t clear enough, but there are a few spoilers contained herein, as readers have pointed out in the comments section below. There isn’t any other way to compare the film to reality.]

As someone who worked in an NFL front office for 10 years, my initial thought upon being asked to review Draft Day was that it would be an entertaining movie with an enticing ensemble cast—but lacking any true depiction of how an NFL team operates leading up to and during the draft. Those suspicions were confirmed upon seeing it last weekend.

While Draft Day held my interest and at times came tantalizingly close to mirroring reality—especially the tension and emotion in the green room, where players nervously wait for their names to be called while TV cameras record every reaction—it predictably revolved around cinematic “wow” moments rather than the tedious reality of working in an NFL front office. The true minutiae of a football operation may only be fascinating to avid football fans, so I understand the need to portray it in a more sensational light for mass appeal.

As with the business football, the business of filmmaking rules decision-making. The studio executives behind Draft Day knew that a movie entirely true to NFL war room preparation and execution—with the nonstop waiting around, checking and rechecking of scouting and medical reports, and talking in code about players—would be box office suicide. But then again, I’ve seen two other movies that more accurately captured the business of sports without sacrificing broad appeal.

I thought Jerry Maguire accurately portrayed the cutthroat nature of the agent business, especially the lengths to which agents will go to retain or pilfer clients. It also captured the financial, emotional and psychological investment that goes far beyond negotiating contracts. While it veered into a love story between the characters played Tom Cruise and Rene Zellweger—“You had me at hello!”—it still largely resonated with reality. And I definitely noticed an uptick of young people becoming interested in the agent business after Jerry Maguire.

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Moneyball persuasively exposed front office tension between competing scouting applications: the old school “eye-balling” of players and newer models of data-driven statistical analysis. I thought the most powerful and instructive line of the movie was spoken by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), who proclaimed, “Adapt or die!”

As a theme, pure baseball wasn’t enough to carry Moneyball; movies require character development and subplots, and the heartfelt scenes between the divorced Beane and his endearing daughter certainly pulled on heartstrings. But I still think Moneyball—both the book and the movie—will become a time capsule for the business of sports: fifty years from now fans will chuckle at the skepticism that some scouts and coaches had about analytical player evaluation.

As for Draft Day, here are my biggest takeaways on its authenticity—or lack thereof.

The grind

Preparing for the NFL draft is a painstakingly slow and laborious process—involving millions of dollars and hundreds of hours—toward selecting anywhere from seven to 10 players who will be meaningful additions to the infrastructure of the team for years to come.

Scouts and general managers scour the country for six months before convening to carefully construct The Board, each team’s blueprint that will guide draft day decision-making. The best general managers calmly trust The Board to guide them at all times. Months of meticulous preparation have been invested; it is time for team personnel to pace themselves for the three long days of the draft.

In Draft Day, the Browns are incredibly doing due diligence on their presumptive top choice—quaterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence)—after trading three first-round picks so they can move up to select him! What’s more, general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) discovers on film a sharp downturn in in Callahan’s performance after he’s sacked by linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman). And Weaver only does so after getting a call on his cellphone from Mack, who has a direct line to a GM on the day of the draft.

In the real world, that information would have been uncovered, discussed, debated and dissected months earlier. There are very few surprises about NFL prospects, who have been grilled for months.

Impulse, emotion and conflict

TK (Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment)
Browns owner Anthony Molina, played by Frank Langella. (Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment)

I thought Kevin Costner was admirably understated and realistic in his portrayal of an NFL general manager. Though spurred by a save-your-job ultimatum from Browns owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), his impulsive trading of picks is the type of irrational decision-making that seems to be more in line with his character from Tin Cup, the risk-taking Roy McAvoy.

Yes, it’s true that the real-life Redskins did mortgage their future by sending three top draft picks to the Rams in order to select Robert Griffin III in 2012, but that was a rare exception we may never see again. Teams know that first-round draft picks are among the most valuable currency and are loathe to trade them, especially not in time-pressured spontaneous phone conversations without consulting trusted associates.

When the powers that be—usually owners and head coaches rather than general managers—make impulsive decisions, it renders months of preparation and grunt work utterly meaningless. Nothing deflates a scouting staff more than a rogue decision-maker who strays from The Board to satiate a gut feeling.

The movie did portray a realistic view of the all-consuming nature of what it takes to be an NFL general manager, including Weaver masochistically listening to talk radio skewering him. Many NFL general managers listen, watch and read everything that gets said about them—especially the ones who say they don’t. Further, I thought the interactions between the Browns’ security director and Weaver were accurate in terms of the type of information that was uncovered and shared, even if it was revealed far too late in the process. 

Throughout the film, Weaver seems to be living in a constant state of conflict. He has heated exchanges with the team owner (who still hasn’t taken off his sunglasses); with his coach (the two aren’t in the same universe, let alone being on the same page); with his mother (who insists on scattering her late husband’s ashes on the team’s practice field an hour before the draft), and his incumbent quarterback (who throws a tantrum and trashes Weaver’s office upon hearing the team may select his replacement). Internal tensions exist within every NFL team, but they occur in much more subtle, muted and measured tones. Of course, subtle and measured do not play well in Hollywood.

draft-day-jennifer-garner-800

Jennifer Garner as the Browns’ salary cap manager

I am still processing this one. The Browns’ salary cap manager, Ali Parker, is the secret girlfriend of the general manager, and pregnant with his child. Um, well, I suppose there were some late nights poring over contract language and salary cap impacts?

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During my time as the Packers vice president—I did the same job that Jennifer Garner does in the film—I am sure the hundreds of agents with whom I dealt would have much preferred negotiating with her rather than me. The reality, however, is that while there are many women in administrative roles on NFL teams—legal, public relations, marketing, finance, etc.—there are very few in the gritty world of general managers, agents, scouts and coaches.

While Garner commendably depicted the calm and measured personality required of that role, her character offered little pushback against Weaver’s unpredictable professional impulses. Asked about cash and cap consequences of trading picks to move into the top spot of the draft, she rightfully informed Weaver of the increased cost but, in an effort to please, proclaimed, “We can do it!” In a more realistic portrayal, she would have been a stronger voice of caution, advising that forfeiting future top draft picks would mean that reasonably priced long-term assets would likely be replaced with more expensive and short-term (veteran) replacements.

Six final takeaways from Draft Day

  • Although Sean Combs was cast in the role of a stereotypical agent, the presence of real NFL agents—such as David Dunn, agent for Vontae Mack, and veteran Eugene Parker moving through the green room—was a nice addition. I smiled at seeing Dunn carrying with his ubiquitous yellow legal pad, a fixture for Dave in our many negotiations.
  • No team doctor or trainer appeared in the film, even though they are essential in the draft day decision-making process.
  • Although the bumbling intern assisting Weaver is a humorous character (played by Griffin Newman), the thought of a new intern completely foreign to the GM handling critical calls from other general managers on the day of the draft is, well, it’s a movie.
  • I found it interesting that the NFL general manager most duped in trade machinations worked for the Seahawks, a team that is known to have one of the more astute front offices in the league (Draft Day, of course, was filmed prior to Seattle winning the Super Bowl last season).
  • The interactions between general managers, complete with split-screen phone conversations, were infused with a bit too much testosterone. Most GMs hone their skills in the same college scouting circles and have known each other for years. They realize the risk to their reputations of “getting over” on one another. Further, the “deer in the headlights” look of the Jaguars’ general manager is, while amusing, a bit hard to imagine of someone managing a billion dollar asset.
  • And, of course, the movie ending with the team’s general manager and salary cap manager walking out, hand-in-hand, as if all their work was done for that year’s draft? Well, there’s a difference between the reality of The Board and the big screen.

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39 comments
ErikSetzer
ErikSetzer

I watched it as a movie that I knew would diverge a good bit from the reality of the NFL, and enjoyed it for being what it was.  My biggest issue was that they tried to mix in some real events (the slide of Geno Smith, the RGIII trade, for example) with what was clearly an "alternate reality" NFL, and it comes out just feeling weird.  If they'd left those out, I could have accepted the idea of the Seahawks having the #1 pick by merit of failing hard (because it wouldn't be "current" NFL).


SPOILERS BELOW.


Also, it was a bit weird that they could barely squeeze in the move from 7 to 1 on the salary cap, but then were somehow going to be okay with having both 7 AND 1?  That's a lot of cap.  And for a team that gave a raise to a QB while he was injured?  Seriously, at that point, the salary cap manager HAS to be sleeping with the GM not to be raising a stink...

smossdaddy
smossdaddy

A decent film but not nearly as entertaining or good as Moneyball.  Obviously, it is fantasy as no real GM would ever trade 3 no. 1 draft picks to move up for a player they had not thoroughly evaluated prior to making such a trade. 


One key part of the storyline that made absolutely no sense was that a team (Seattle in the film) would never trade 3 newly acquired no. 1 picks to move up a few spots to take a player (Callahan in the film) they previously passed on at No. 1 (by making the initial trade) merely to save salary.  That made no sense whatsoever.

6marK6
6marK6

It is a movie starring guys whose "careers" died during the first Bush administration. Man, this looks awful!

Marchoir
Marchoir

It's a movie! It's entertainment. And this movie is about Costner and his character. People are paying to see Costner act in the manner which they have come to expect. Get over yourself dude. Brandt is a hopeless beta male. And nothing is funnier, or sadder, than a beta writing a critique of alphas, and "explaining" how alphas think and what makes them tick, as if they had a clue. They don't. They never do. They never will.  But 100% of the time, they always "think" they do. They're as lost as a ball in high weeds, and never realize it. The way they're wired, and their behavior and comfort level within "the pack", defines them. Cradle to grave. A beta never morphs into an alpha.

Redskins
Redskins

Films never get it quite right for anyone expert in the arena being portrayed.

That said, I found "Draft Day" to be highly entertaining, old-fashioned filmmaking. Costner was outstanding, as was Garner.

On a final note: If Mr. Brandt was any good at his former job, he wouldn't have his current one!

PaulKelly
PaulKelly

This review is the worst part of the movie. Makes me understand why the writer is no longer with the NFL. These guys are bloodthirsty, greedy people and if a GM is weak, the other GM's will feast on him, to save their own skin. Doesn't matter about the deer in the headlights comments either it certainly happens in all business where the wrong guy is in charge  of billions of dollars and the employees and fans are stuck with this nut until the company is almost dead. 

dg_sirola
dg_sirola

"Without conflict there is no drama." - George Bernard Shaw

DwightZimmerman
DwightZimmerman

Just saw the movie today. One thing that I focused on was the verbal deal-making--specifically, the level of trust that occurs under such high pressure situations. I'd appreciate an article from you as an insider on, for lack of a better word, credibility. I'm sure there's been double-dealing, lying, etc.--but I think that fans would be interested in the informal code of ethics that GMs have with each other.

JimKirkwood1
JimKirkwood1

Who cares. It's a movie. Very few movies actually reflect the reality of what they are portraying

Jaymo13
Jaymo13

Everything in this movie that involved trading picks after the initial pick trade of 3 first rounders for the #1 overall pick was ridiculous. Trading 3 first rounders to take a guy whose draft ceiling is probably 15 (the team who calls asking about Mack). If he didn't want Bo Callahan, but knew his value was incredibly high (he was offered 2 first rounders and I'm guessing 2 starters for the pick), why wouldn't he still take him and then just deal his rights away later and pick up Mack? Their draft was hailed as a huge success after getting Mack and the running back, but taking the RB they got at 7 out of the equation, they traded 3 second round picks for the privilege of picking a guy who wouldn't go till at least 15th at #1 (a difference of $13 million based on 2013 rookie salaries). If 3 second rounders can get you the 6th pick in the NFL universe this movie is set in, it should be enough to get you to 15. 


Also, I feel obligated to point out how hilarious it was that you questioned the validity of Jennifer Garner playing a woman who was in charge of the Browns' salary cap, when the actual salary cap manager of the Browns is a woman (Megan Rogers). Your colleague Emily Kaplan actually wrote an article on this very website about this a day after this article was posted. Yes there are not many women in these positions in the NFL, but given what you said in this case it obviously merits a mention.

gary7
gary7

Save that lousy review for a Netflix movie, only thing that matters is, was the movie entertaining, don't care if they use a pen or pencil to write on a legal pad, was the movie entertaining, that's it, that's the list

IdDoHannahStorm
IdDoHannahStorm

Did Kevin Costner drink in own urine in this movie too?

richschneid
richschneid

I really like this movie.  It was very entertaining.  But, of course, it is not realistic.  As a cardiologist, I can say exactly the same thing about every doctor movie and TV show.  If it were realistic it would be so boring that no one would pay to watch it.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

Watch the action live on TV if you like it (I understand it's not everything).....why give Mollywood your hard earned money. One of these days the NFL network or Frontline on PBS will give you the True workings of the situation room on draft day. Blowing money (unless you have it to burn) isn't the way. 

RobertStorms
RobertStorms

Who in the world would want to pay to go to a movie to watch real life tedium. It's like legal thrillers. Real trials are like watching paint dry. I don't really want to watch an assistant scout watch endless hours of game film on one draft prospect. Movies are for entertainment, drama, and conflict.

RonReid-Taylor
RonReid-Taylor

Not quite a billion dollars and minus the wide eyes but Charlie Wang is a total deer in the headlights

ashoreinhawaii
ashoreinhawaii

Tbe movie, Any Given Sunday, among others, wasn't allowed to use real NFL teams.

Because that movie dealt with the real behind-the-scenes issues - owner arrogance & greed, players used as so much bovine chattel, steroiids, and the Mike Websters (shame on you Dan Rooney, thinks this born & bred Pittsburgher sports fan), - any cooperation by the NFL was out of the question.

THAT DRAFT DAY HAD THE NFL'S COOPERATION WAS A RED FLAG.

That Goodell has a cameo only confirms that at its core, the movie is a puff piece. Add to that the fact that it is one long dull commercial for that 24/7 clown fest of reruns and amateurs - led by that outdated, 70's VHS bozo, Chris Berman.

I was thinking that bad movies are no longer a so-what couple of bucks, and will be more discriminating and take those red flags seriously.


Otto-Gee
Otto-Gee

So if all the Hollywood was taken out of the movie, Andrew Brandt an accountant and business professor (who doesn't have a job in the NFL) would like it.

I haven't seen the film yet, but plan to....  and when I do, I will remember to turn on my willing suspension of disbelief, as that to some degree is the primary element required to enter a movie theater.

Nothing against Brandt, but was he the last one in the office when this task came up?

hayhowesq
hayhowesq

Movies always get things wrong. They try to condense a long period into a short movie and it can't be done very often, if at all. It only bothers me when the movie pretends to be factual, which this doesn't seem to. Like others said, it is only a movie.

DavidAndrewLloyd
DavidAndrewLloyd

Don't overlook the true message of the film. 

More people will be interested in the draft this year, and years to come. 

No movie captures the truth about any subject, but "DRAFT DAY" certainly captured the "essence."  It won't win the Oscar, but, like Costner picking Mack, the movie is a first round choice!!!

Cool
Cool

Years ago I was dating a OBGYN and took her to a movie that starred Arnold ... I don't remember the name of the movie, all I remember is that he was pregnant and was going to give birth.  Amazingly my date whispered in my ear the entire movie about how none of this could ever happen.   Well you can just imagine my shock... a man can't give birth?  I almost demanded my money back.. but then I remembered something.. it was just a freakin movie meant to entertain, not inform. So instead it just ended up being my last date with her.  

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Oh, what pre-draft hype has wrought.  The three-months of ‘Mock Draft Days’ is of little-relevance, while the real draft is highly speculative, so why wouldn’t a movie capitalizing on NFL draft be the same?   Lots o’ license.


I have yet to see “Draft Days,” though likely will take gander.  First five will tell.  Star of “Dances With Wolves” and “JFK” always deserves a look-see, of course, he did make “Field of Dreams.”  Ugh.  


Critics have been panning historical films for…ever (See; “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “The Buddy Holly Story”).  Gotta’ keep ‘em in check.  But as Alfred Hitchcock used to say, “It’s only a movie.”


Curious Andy, did the Bishop (DGB / DSV) ever weigh-in on potential draftees?

jdane
jdane

You need to learn the difference between "incredible" and "incredulous."

JubJub
JubJub

This movie sounds absolutely ridiculous.  

Stephen H
Stephen H

@Marchoir  That was some very untrue, quasi-psychological drivel. Just inane garbage from an angry young man.

Bongo
Bongo

@Marchoir :  And self-perceived "alphas" feel the need to post long-winded nonsense in comment sections because only they know the "truth".  Just as these self-perceived "alphas" need to view the world as artificial, socially-retarded strata where people need to be labeled as "alphas" or "betas".

GO22JETS
GO22JETS

@Redskins  Nice job Redskins! Stated well especially the final note.

norrinraddical
norrinraddical

@Jaymo13  Exactly--good to see someone else was paying attention; so basically, the Browns got (and will pay for) a consensus no. 15 pick with the no. 1 pick and a no. 7 pick--that they were projected to get anyway--in exchange for three no. 2's, which they could have traded for anywhere AFTER the 7 pick.


Oh and they got some kickoff returner--wow.


The net result was that the Seahawks a got a can't-miss (according to consensus view in the movie) QB prospect AND they saved $7M in rookie salary, of which they can use (a small portion) of to find another once-in-a-lifetime kick returner. Has a kick returner EVER been part of a trade, EVER?


I love all these, "oh relax, it's just a movie"...yes, and it's a bad one for a lot of reason--really, Kevin Costner is banging Jennifer Garner? He looked like her father. And did they actually pay Rosanne Arquette? How about Sam Elliot--he did this for free, right?


Why would the Seahawks reverse the steal of the century (THREE No. 1's! and not just anybody's No. 1 picks, but the Browns' picks for crying out loud--three single digit picks!), to draft a QB they obviously didn't want to begin with? Because they could save $7M in salary?  They had the No. 1 pick because they hard the worst record (presumably)--either they needed a QB or not.


But wait, no one came to Bo's 21st birthday? OK no teammates, so he went by himself? Uh, maybe he has non-football playing friends. So he wasn't that close with a bunch of steroid injected, immature, rapist gangbangers. AND he gets a little nervous after he's been sacked? You ay nervous, I say cautious--either way, he was calm enough to actually win that game. Yup, those were his weaknesses. Oh, and he "lied" when asked about the $100 taped to the back of the playbook, well, I think he did. 


Here's the epilogue...one year later: Vontae Mack suspended 1 year for his SECOND PED failed test, Ryan Jennings awaiting trial for the assault of his pregnant baby mamma, and Bo Callahan is the Rookie of the Year, League MVP who led the Seahawks to the NFC Title Game.


Oh, and it wasn't Kevin Costner's kid--the owner was banging her too....

Bongo
Bongo

@Otto-Gee :  Suspension of disbelief is all well and good, but when Hollywood stretches things too far and gets into cartoonish behavior for the characters, then I usually have a hard time enjoying the film.  Hollywood just doesn't do "real" all that well, in most cases.

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

@DavidAndrewLloyd  Nope, no they won't be more interested in drafts in the years to come because of this film.  They're already interested and those who aren't won't be seeing it anyway.  And yeah, next time try typing, "SPOILER ALERT" for the people who do plan on seeing it. 

And I also saw the film.  I thought it kind of sucked for many of the same things that Andrew typed out.  I also thought, "where in the hell are they going?" when they left with most of the draft left to go. 

Mike26
Mike26

@DavidAndrewLloyd  Hey idiot, you're supposed to be a SPOILER ALERT at the beginning of your post.  Use the internet much?

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

@Cool  That’s some standard.  Guess you didn’t know back then that physicians have a license to print money.  And today it’s practically irrevocable, now that the ACA is law.  But then maybe she had a five o’clock shadow.  Ahh, choices.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@KeysSteven @Cool 

Actually, "expert," the ACA -- Obamacare, to those not familiar with political talk -- is driving doctors out of business.

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