Chiefs GM Brett Veach on the NFL Draft and the importance of free agency
As a young general manager with a burgeoning reputation for being a maverick dealmaker, Brett Veach is in his element this time of year.
Two years ago, as the Chiefs’ co-director of player personnel, he helped pull off the kind of trade that shifts the direction of an organization when the Chiefs moved up to No. 10 to grab Patrick Mahomes, giving up three significant picks to the Bills in the process.
The fast-talking Veach lives for draft weekend, for the moments where the adrenaline flows and his phone lights up with other league executives also looking to make a deal.
This time around, though, the second-year general manager is trying to find a balance between that trademark aggressiveness and the passivity he demonstrated a year ago when the Chiefs lacked a first-round pick as a result of the Mahomes trade.
For Veach, it’s finding a middle ground between making the moves needed to win now and exercising patience to add pieces that will continue to build a franchise, even when his natural instinct is to push the envelope.
“I think you have to stay true to who you are,” Veach said. “Kind of what got you here. But at the same time, you learn. You can be more tactical in certain areas.
“I’ve got a great staff around me. I don’t think any GM goes into the draft and just starts pulling off names all by themselves. They surround themselves with smart people, and I have smart people around me.”
Though Veach said he’s seeking that balance, his instincts couldn’t help but break through in Thursday’s pre-draft availability.
“We’re not trying to build for the future,” Veach said. “We’re trying to win now. We’re going to stay aggressive, and we’re trying to put the best roster that we possibly can out there. There’s some moves that you just can’t make, but I think whatever we can do throughout the course of this period and after this period, I don’t think we’ll ever stop to be aggressive and push the envelope here. We want to put Kansas City in the best position to win a Super Bowl.”
Thanks to moves he and his staff made during free agency to fill some of the most gaping holes in the Chiefs’ roster, Veach comes into the draft with something of an insurance policy that allows him to draft for the best available with the No. 29 pick rather than for a specific need.
“The things that you do in free agency kind of protect yourself in the draft,” Veach said. “So you don’t have to take a player that you feel is a second or third-round value in the first round.
“You go in there (in free agency) and they don’t all have to be big name splashes. You can get guys like a Bashaud Breeland or a Damien Wilson to protect yourselves from overdrafting players.
“I feel like this year, with the exception of quarterback, I think anything’s on the table in the first round.”
Even if almost anything goes, there are a few positions that need a little more help than others.
Though the Chiefs addressed some needs in the secondary, linebacker corps and edge rushers through free agency, there’s still room to add more bodies.
In new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs have a coach that previously specialized in the secondary. He broke into the NFL coaching ranks as a defensive backs coach with the Eagles in 2001 and was also the Ravens’ secondary coach in 2014. With that background, the Chiefs have scrutinized the draft for available secondary talent.
“Steve, he’s coached all over,” Veach said. “He’s been a coordinator, been a head coach, but he’s a secondary guy by trade … That was the first group we looked at. I don’t think there’s been a position group we’ve looked more at than the safeties and the corners this year.”
By the time the No. 29 pick comes around, the best player available very well may be a defensive back like Washington cornerback Byron Murphy or Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Either player would complement pieces the Chiefs already added in free agency like safety Tyrann Mathieu and Breeland, and both display characteristics that will likely make them NFL ready early on, something that’s important to a team like the Chiefs that was only a few pieces away from a Super Bowl berth.
“Every time, especially when you draft early on, you want guys that can step in and play,” Veach said. “It is a battle of attrition, and you’re going to lose starters, even if you’re deep at a position. I think these guys need to be ready to come in and contribute and play.”