Hiding in plain sight among the NFL’s various P.R. gaffes is one the most brilliant masterstrokes in the history of shaping opinion: The idea that it’s somehow an honor to prevent a football player from selecting the pro football team for which he’ll play.
The draft process, which runs counter to the American notion of open markets and freedom of choice, prevents employees from selecting the company for which they will work. Instead, the employees are assigned to their employers based on a rotation that allows the employers to secure dibs on them.
The draft has become part of the league’s bedrock, even though it’s relevance to competitive balance in the age of free agency and the salary cap is minimal. And the employees who aspire to be drafted as high as possible are wired to take a step back and ask, “Shouldn’t I be picking the team instead of the team picking me?”
I posed that question to former Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II on Thursday’s PFT Live. He provided the same response that, frankly, I would have given at the age of 21, while on the brink of hoping to be picked as early as possible.
“I guess you could say that but at the same time it’s really exciting,” Mahomes said. “You get to go into draft day, it’s gonna be a dream come true. I’m gonna get to sit there and watch the draft and hopefully get that phone call and get drafted. I mean you’re gonna be excited to go no matter where it is. They’re all great teams, all great cities and I just wanna get there now and hopefully get to the right team with the right coaching.”
At the tail end of the answer came a whisper of deviation from the standqard pre-draft talking point. He wants to get to the “right team with the right coaching.” But if that happens, it won’t be the product of Mahomes’ decision-making process; it will be a result of the right team with the right coaching deciding Mahomes is the right guy. What if the wrong team with the wrong coaching picks Mahomes? For at least four and maybe five years, there’s nothing he can do about it.
“There’s definitely no team that I’d prefer not to play for,” Mahomes added. “I really just want a team that has great coaching and that can really help me develop to be the best quarterback I can be and hopefully win a few championships.”
The truth could be at Mahomes simply isn’t able at this point to identify which teams will, and which teams won’t, help him fulfill that objective. And since neither he nor any other draft pick will have any say over where he will be, there’s no reason for Mahomes to try to figure out where he’d like to be drafted, and where he wouldn’t like to be drafted. The draft culture compels the players to compete for the false honor of being drafted as high as possible, with the hope that their NFL careers won’t be derailed by the wrong team and the wrong coaching at the wrong time.