Recent direct numerical simulations of the finite-extensibility nonlinear elastic dumbbell model with the Peterlin approximation of non-Newtonian hydrodynamics revealed that the phenomenon of drag reduction by polymer additives exists (albeit in reduced form) also in homogeneous turbulence. We use here a simple shell model for homogeneous viscoelastic flows, which recaptures the essential observations of the full simulations. The simplicity of the shell model allows us to offer a transparent explanation of the main observations. It is shown that the mechanism for drag reduction operates mainly on large scales. Understanding the mechanism allows us to predict how the amount of drag reduction depends on the various parameters in the model. The main conclusion is that drag reduction is not a universal phenomenon; it peaks in a window of parameters such as the Reynolds number and the relaxation rate of the polymer.