Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph
There’s a lot to talk about here as a huge fan of the NFL Draft. I know I’m just getting back into my football movie marathon, and watching this is out of order of where I was, but it just felt right to keep up my very short, but beloved tradition of watching Draft Day just before the actual NFL Draft each April. So I am making a rare exception for my marathon watching order in getting to this one out of chronological order. But it is with good reason, and I hope this can coincide nicely with the very first ever virtual Draft. I have lots of thoughts, but while Draft Day is an extremely flawed movie, I can’t help but return to it every year to consume the draft in another way. And yes, this is a more than obvious schill from the NFL to sponsor and help promote their own product. I don’t care. It’s so entertaining!
Sonny (Kevin Costner) is the General Manager for the long struggling Cleveland Browns. As the day of the NFL draft begins, he has to contend with not only his owner (Frank Langella), who hopes he can make a “splash” with their pick, but also the cocky new head coach (Denis Leary) who hopes Sonny can provide him the players he needs to win; his head of payroll (Jennifer Garner), with whom he’s been sleeping and just revealed she’s pregnant; his mother (Ellen Burstyn) who, with Sonny, is mourning the loss of her husband, Sonny’s father, who is the legendary former head coach of the team; and the various prospects (Chadwick Boseman, Arian Foster, Josh Pence) who he is discussing selecting with his first round pick.
I’ve come back to this film time and again and I guess it’s just kind of a perfect blending of two of my interests (NFL Draft and movies) as well as starring a few of my favorite performers (Jennifer Garner and Kevin Costner). Now, before we delve into the mechanics of this film from a draft perspective (don’t you worry, we will investigate this in detail), I do want to comment on all the dramatic machinations on display as well. Let’s start with Kevin Costner, king of the sports movie. He is terrible in this film. Just so disconnected from the character and really rough around the edges. Sonny is not fully formed because of his performance, which is seriously lacking the charisma and buy-in I’ve loved him for in previous sports movies. He is sleepwalking his way to a paycheck here. But the plotting of everything I think is good on paper. The loss of his father, the pressures from the owner and head coach, dealing with the news he’s going to be a father. It’s a lot, and maybe a little too much, but it all adds into Sonny’s tumultuous day. But I said on paper because, again, Costner doesn’t deliver, especially performing opposite Garner, who is once again a delight.
So let’s get into the draft, and apologies if you’re not a football fan and don’t care about the draft, but I’m going to geek out a little bit here because it’s important to how the film works for those of us who follow it closely. Before I get into it though, let me say that the way all the trading and dealing and mind games are positioned, I think should work fairly well for the uninformed. It hits a lot of the right notes with the inner workings so far as I know. What it doesn’t get right are the picks and the positioning. So let’s recap…SPOILERS AHEAD…
The Browns start the day with the 7th overall pick, where many believe Sonny could take either LB Vontae Mack (Boseman), or RB Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), whose father played for the Browns. Let’s start here because in 2020, anyone would tell you that linebackers and running backs are RARELY valued as top 10 picks. Positions like QB, EDGE rusher, CB, and OT are often the hardest to get elite talent and therefore the most often top 10 pick types. RBs and LBs often fall in the draft, unless they are true “generational talents”. By all accounts, neither of these players are, as great as they portend them to be. But ultimately, let’s leave this lie as not that egregious. So mid morning, Sonny decides to trade three straight years of First Round picks for the first pick overall. This is a desperate trade, to be sure, but this even isn’t that bad considering the promise of the “generational talent” of QB Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the presumed top pick. Okay, Sonny gave away a lot, but now the Browns have their QB of the future, even if they have a average to above average player at the position already in Brian Drew (Tom Welling).
But Sonny doesn’t take Bo Callahan because his teammates didn’t go to his birthday party. This is petty and ridiculous and completely insane, but also overblown because it’s basically proven that he has a bad attitude and doesn’t respond well to opposition, so he likely is a true bust. Also, “Vontae Mack no matter what”. So now Sonny makes his first EGREGIOUS mistake. 1. He takes a player at #1 he could have gotten at #7, giving up two additional years of first round picks to do it. 2. A LB at #1 is a positional value disaster! But something funny happens, Bo Callahan, golden boy, begins to fall in the draft to the point where Seattle, the team Sonny traded for the #1 pick with, might get him at #7! A disaster!
But Sonny swoopes in to correct his mistake by convincing Jacksonville at #6 to trade him the pick for three years of second round picks. So the offer, I think is generally fair (if a generational talent QB wasn’t still on the board, which we know he isn’t). By trading back ahead of Seattle, he can now hold them hostage for the player they want, but getting all their first round pick back, AND a return specialist in David Putney. Seattle gets their stud QB, saving $7 million, and only gives up Putney in return. So about this trade, it’s obviously great for the Browns, but what about the Seahawks? Well, they gave up three first round picks and a special teamer to move up one spot, which is outrageous! But essentially the end result from where they started is they get who they wanted at #1, but with a discount and losing a low value special teamer. So optics should be fine, but the actual trade is trash. Not to mention, do they really think the Browns would take Callahan in front of them if they passed on him at #1?
So the Seahawks get Callahan, and that means RB Ray Jennings lands in the Browns lap again at #7, ending their whirlwind first round draft with a haul of players to get them to the promised land with their average to above average QB Brian Drew. So at this point we’re meant to think Sonny is some kind of mad genius, when in reality he’s just mad. At no point did he know what he was doing. He got lucky it turned out right. I have zero belief that at any time he mad some kind of master plan, other than “Vontae Mack no matter what”.
So a full recap: Browns end up with Vontae Mack, Ray Jennings, and David Putney, while giving up three years of Second Round picks to Jacksonville (don’t forget about those). They could have gotten Mack or Jennings with their original pick, so they trade three second round picks for a good RB and a special teamer, which when accounting for the lower positional value of RB (and special teams for that matter), is probably about right in terms of value. So he didn’t “rob” the draft, or “win” the draft. No, what Sonny did was simply manage to unbury himself after making the horrible, horrible, horrible mistake of trading three first round picks only to take a LB at #1. But congrats dude, you’re going to be a father.
So yes, this movie is flawed. But damn if I don’t love watching it!