The film premiered in Los Angeles on April 7, 2014, with its United States release following on April 11.
On the morning of the 2014 NFL Draft in New York City, Chris Berman, Jon Gruden, Mel Kiper Jr., and other analysts discuss the consensus first overall pick: Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. must decide how to use the seventh overall pick to improve his consistently losing team, but has other issues. He recently learned that his secret girlfriend Ali Parker, the team's salary cap analyst, is pregnant. His father, Sonny Weaver Sr., coached the Browns before Weaver Jr. fired him and died a week before the draft.
Weaver's mother, Barb, is upset with him for missing the reading of Weaver Sr.'s will and for refusing to participate in distributing his father's ashes during draft day, and she doesn't approve of Weaver's girlfriend, Parker, either. Weaver reveals to Parker that he had fired his father as coach only because his mother asked him to on account of his father's failing health.
The Seattle Seahawks hold the first overall pick, which general manager Tom Michaels offers to trade to the Browns. Weaver declines, but before leaving for the draft, team owner Anthony Molina—dissatisfied with current quarterback Brian Drew, who had gone down with a knee injury in the seventh game of the previous season—strongly advises him to "make a splash." Under that pressure from his owner, Weaver then reluctantly trades the Browns' first-round draft picks for that year and the next two years—considered an exorbitant price—for the Seahawks' top pick. Many Seahawks fans wanted Callahan, however, and express their displeasure with picket signs at CenturyLink Field and on social media, demanding Michaels' firing.
The unexpected chance to obtain Callahan excites Browns fans. Most in the Browns' front office agree with the trade despite the high price; Drew and head coach Vince Penn—along with Weaver's mother—are exceptions. Penn agrees that Callahan is excellent, but does not want to teach a rookie quarterback his system of offense. He much prefers to keep Drew at quarterback and wants Weaver to draft running back Ray Jennings of Florida State, whose father had starred for the Browns.
Drew, who led the team to a 5–1 start the previous year before his injury, fears losing his job as the Browns' quarterback now that the Browns can pick Callahan. He trained hard in the off season recovering from his injury and greatly improving his leg strength and his throwing arm. Drew is so "upset" he trashes Weaver's office.
The Browns' trade for the number one pick leaks public after a tweet by linebacker Vontae Mack of Ohio State, who had been Weaver's preference for their now-gone seventh pick. Mack, whose good character is established through side-plot vignettes with his family, wants to play for the Browns, and now fears not being chosen until much later in the first round. He advises Weaver to rewatch the Ohio State vs. Wisconsin game in which Ohio State was defeated, but Mack sacked Callahan four times. Teams contact Weaver for possible transactions based on the trade; one from the Houston Texans implies that Mack will not remain available to the Browns in the second round.
After rewatching some plays from Callahan's game against Mack, Weaver becomes concerned about Callahan's ability under pressure. Weaver also doubts Callahan's character when he learns from his security chief about a report that none of Callahan's teammates attended his big 21st birthday party, and that Callahan allegedly had lied to the Washington Redskins about reading the whole of that team's playbook. Callahan hadn't noticed the Redskins had taped a $100 bill to the last page of the playbook, and Weaver is told that, by way of contrast, Brian Drew's response to the $100-bill trick had been exemplary.
When the draft begins that evening at Radio City Music Hall, the Browns have ten minutes to make the first overall pick. Distracted by his personal relationship with Parker and his mother Barb's untimely wish to spread his dad's ashes on the practice field that day, Weaver agonizes until the final minute over whom to select with his number-one pick. He abruptly chooses Mack, whom he wanted all along and whom he could have gotten with his original seventh pick, without giving up successive first-round draft choices. Roger Goodell's announcement of the selection amazes the league and the front office. While a relieved Drew believes that his job is safe, Molina becomes irate and flies back to Cleveland. Callahan has an anxiety attack, and storms out of the theater until his agent, Chris Crawford, persuades him to return and not show panic.
Penn is incensed and threatens to quit as coach. Weaver's unexpected choice, however, disrupts the draft. Rumors spread about Callahan as other teams avoid him, fearing that the Browns know something they do not. It now appears the Seahawks still might be able to select Callahan with what had been the Browns' seventh pick.
However, the Jacksonville Jaguars hold the sixth pick. The Jaguars' first two choices are no longer available, so their draft plans are in disarray, and their rookie general manager Jeff Carson is wary about Callahan because of the rumors. Weaver persuades the Jaguars to trade him their sixth pick for the next three years of the Browns' second-round draft picks.
Molina arrives and angrily confronts Weaver, who asks the owner to wait five more minutes and let him do his job. Weaver then calls Michaels, who now wants Callahan, since he is under increasing pressure from Seahawk fans after trading away the number-one pick. Weaver demands all three of his former first-round draft picks back, plus the Seahawks' punt returner, David Putney, in exchange for the sixth pick. The Seahawks make the deal and choose Callahan with the sixth pick, thus getting him for about $7 million less than if the Seahawks had made him their first overall selection. Weaver then selects Jennings with his restored seventh pick, appeasing coach Penn and owner Molina.
Weaver effectively has acquired Mack, Jennings and Putney expending only three years of second-round picks. This is universally acclaimed as an outstanding draft for the Browns. Additionally, in Drew the Browns have an experienced and fully healthy returning quarterback.
After the Browns' draft party, Weaver and Parker meet Weaver's mother, Barb, in a hallway, and the three reconcile over Weaver's excellent draft and Barb's upcoming first grandchild.
Weaver and a visibly pregnant Parker attend the opening day of the 2014 season at FirstEnergy Stadium. Weaver laughs as he overhears retired Browns stars Jim Brown and Bernie Kosar congratulate Molina for doing "a hell of a job" with the draft and then hears Molina accept the credit.
The team—including Mack, Jennings, Drew and Putney—explodes onto the field on opening day.
When the idea was first made public, the film was to be centered around the Buffalo Bills, but the studio subsequently changed it to the Cleveland Browns because of cheaper production costs in Ohio.
Crowd reactions of fans at the actual 2013 NFL Draft, as well as Cleveland Browns fans at local bars, were filmed. Cameos with real-life NFL figures such as league commissioner Roger Goodell and ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman were filmed before and after the draft took place. The rest of the film began filming on May 8, 2013.
As in the film, the Cleveland Browns made splashes at the draft, trading up to select quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick. The team also made several deals, trading away their fourth pick to the Buffalo Bills but for their ninth pick, as well as their 2015 first round pick. They later traded up to the eighth pick to draft Justin Gilbert. Finally, after watching Manziel drop farther than projected, they again traded up for the 22nd pick. Chris Berman, who played himself in the fictionalized draft, commented at the 2014 NFL Draft that the events surrounding the Cleveland Browns were more exciting than the film. Unlike the film, the Browns selected the much-hyped Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, as opposed to passing on Bo Callahan, the fictionalized first pick favorite.
The first poster and trailer for the film were released on December 23, 2013.
The film grossed $28.8 million domestically with an additional $604,801 overseas for a worldwide total of $29.5 million, against a budget of $25 million.
The film grossed $9,783,603 in its opening weekend, finishing in fourth place at the box office behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Rio 2, and Oculus (the latter two also being new releases).
Draft Day has received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 60%, based on 149 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 5.9/10. The site's consensus reads, "It's perfectly pleasant for sports buffs and Costner fans, but overall, Draft Day lives down to its title by relying too heavily on the sort of by-the-numbers storytelling that only a statistician could love". On the aggregated review site Metacritic, the film has a score of 54 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper gave the film a "B", stating the film is "a sentimental, predictable, sometimes implausible but thoroughly entertaining, old-fashioned piece."
On the contrary, Jack Hamilton of Slate was harshly critical. "The 'filmmaking' here consists of making sure the camera is pointed at people who are explaining the film's plot to one another, preferably while they are wearing logos and standing in front of more logos," he wrote. He suggested the NFL's involvement had made the film too upbeat. "[It] isn't so much a movie as a movielike infomercial for the kinder, gentler NFL ... In the wake of labor strife, off-field scandals, and the ongoing CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) crisis, the NFL is doubling down on its fantasy of paternalism, and Draft Day is that fantasy's porn film."
Former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt criticized Draft Day as "lacking any true depiction of how an NFL team operates leading up to and during the draft", and less realistic about the business of sports than Jerry Maguire and Moneyball.