The NFL’s biggest event short of the Super Bowl is the ultimate sports event in that it is only vaguely a sports event. It is a soap opera, manufactured drama, and that was true long before Laremy Tunsil became the most famous man of the night.
Because the draft is a sports event without results, or at least without results that we can analyze fully and with clear consciences. This is the NFL’s version of a midterm essay, where the same result can — and often is — looked at by some as a success and others as a failure.
The only constant is that the men who make these picks always sit down for press conferences and talk about how happy they are that this particular football player was available.
For the Chiefs, that obligation of being part of the NFL machine won’t come until Friday, with the team trading out of the first round — sending the 28th overall pick and a seventh-round pick to the 49ers for the 37th pick (second round), 105th (fourth round) and 178th (sixth round) picks.
The trade turned a draft party attended by thousands into something like the collective experience of being stood up on a first date.
But, it does make football sense.
“I know everybody’s a little frustrated because you don’t get a first-round pick, but the draft is a three-day process,” Chiefs GM John Dorsey said. “We’re still going to get really good players here, you guys. That’s the beauty of this whole thing.”
The Chiefs’ current leadership group has earned the benefit of the doubt. Dorsey and coach Andy Reid have been far from perfect. The clock management at New England. The Dee Ford pick. There are other examples.
But they’ve been good — good enough to sort through Scott Pioli’s mess and create the kind of stability, credibility and consistent winning that chairman Clark Hunt has craved since taking over for his father nearly a decade ago.
Immediately analyzing anything beyond motivations and priorities in the draft is dangerous and largely a fool’s errand, and even doing that much requires seeing through the smokescreens that NFL executives are so fond of.
But, here, Dorsey and Reid have shown confidence in themselves and the group they’ve assembled around them to make these decisions.
Whether they ever say it publicly or not, it’s hard to believe this wasn’t at least in part driven by the NFL’s egregious overreach penalty for a tampering violation.
“Not at all,” Dorsey said when asked if the penalty influenced the trade.
For breaking a rule that is routinely broken, and for by all accounts fully cooperating with the investigation and without any real track record of violations by the organization or coaching staff, the NFL still gave the Chiefs its harshest tampering penalty ever — stripping a third-round pick this year, and a sixth next year.
Team executives often love to talk about their preparation and hard work surrounding the draft, and they’re not lying. They do work hard, and they do put their minds and souls into the process. Some are better at it than others, but generally speaking, hard work is merely the cover charge to get into the party.
Luck is a far bigger factor in draft success than the NFL machine would prefer you believe, and the best way to get lucky is to take the most shots.
Before the trade, the Chiefs had just two of the first 125 picks. With the trade, they have three of the first 105.
This only works if Reid and Dorsey can find production later in the draft that vaguely mirrors what they would’ve had at No. 28 — the 49ers took Stanford guard Joshua Garnett 28th, and the Cardinals took Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche 29th.
There is inherent risk on both sides of any trade, but the team that drops down does so with a specific kind of confidence. Trading up means faith in the evaluation of one player. Trading down means conviction in the evaluation of many, because you can’t be certain who will be available when the pick comes up.
This is the fourth draft since Dorsey and Reid took over, which is long enough to have established a track record, short as it may be.
The picks of Travis Kelce in the 2013 third round and Marcus Peters in the 2015 first round have provided the organization with cornerstones at important positions. Dee Ford in the first round of 2014 looks like a miss. Eric Fisher first overall in 2013 looks like the best the Chiefs could’ve done with an underwhelming stack of choices.
You’d like to see more production from the later rounds in the draft — De’Anthony Thomas in the 2014 fourth round looks like a miss — but finding good players in those rounds is more difficult than many believe.
Look, nobody knows anything about the NFL Draft. Not even the men who make their living in this thing. There are only varying degrees of preparation, evaluation, execution and luck.
What we can do is form opinions on the thought process that leads teams to decisions, and with some hindsight the track record of those decisions.
On the first of those points, what Reid and Dorsey did makes logical sense. On the second of those points, they’ve earned trust.