He stuck out like a sore thumb, the 39-year-old in sweats throwing passes in drills at Maryland’s pro day April 2, trying to keep up with the youngsters who are training to play in the NFL this fall.
But this wasn’t Uncle Rico or another has-been trying to relive the glory years. This was Nick Caserio, the Patriots’ director of player personnel and No. 2 football man behind Bill Belichick, getting right into the thick of the action during one of his many predraft scouting visits.
“Whatever I can do from my perspective to help with part of the evaluation process, then I’m going to do,” Caserio said Wednesday from Gillette Stadium, eight days before the start of the NFL Draft. “If I’ve got to throw some balls during the drills, then I’ll throw some balls.”
“All of us — Bill, myself, coaches — when you go to a workout or go to a pro day, none of us are above any of that.”
Belichick craves versatility in his players, but no piece in the organization may be more versatile than Caserio, entering his 15th season with the club.
A former quarterback at Division 3 John Carroll (where he was teammates with Josh McDaniels), Caserio is a coach, scout, contract negotiator, and salary-cap manager for the Patriots, as well as Belichick’s point man on roster decisions, free agency, and the draft.
Most of his experience with the Patriots has been on the front office side, but Caserio was a coach in 2002 and 2007 and an area scout in 2003. He assumed his role of director of player personnel in 2008.
It’s rare to see someone of Caserio’s ilk — a general manager or top personnel executive — handle on-field duties. But Caserio is Belichick’s do-it-all man, the crucial link between the football side and the business side.
On the field, Caserio can coach drills for any number of positions — we’ve seen him pop up at Maryland, Rutgers, and Auburn this spring — or work with rookies on proper technique during minicamp. Off the field, he’ll host mid-level free agents on visits while Belichick is away from Gillette, and initiate certain contract negotiations.
He watches film of college and the pros to help Belichick prioritize free agency and the draft, and watches games from the coaches’ press box, passing tips and analysis down to the sideline.
“He probably does more than any other person in his position in the league in terms of his amount of responsibility, the number of different things he does on the coaching and the scouting level,” Belichick said last year. “He’s really a valuable guy that has great working knowledge of really everything that we do on the scouting end and the coaching end.
“So he’s able to really interface with everybody and not only evaluate players, but has a great understanding of our schemes and the coaches and coaching points and so forth — what would fit those, to be able to identify the type of fit that guys have coming in here, or lack of fit as the case would be, whatever it happens to be.”
Caserio hasn’t gotten nearly the credit for team-building as did his predecessor, Scott Pioli, but Caserio is used to working in Belichick’s shadow and not getting his proper due.
No offense to Jerry Jones, but Belichick — and by extension, Caserio — deserved to win the NFL’s Executive of the Year award for this past season. Go down the list, and pretty much every single roster decision panned out and contributed to the Super Bowl win, from Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Vince Wilfork, Akeem Ayers, LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, and many others.
“Nick doesn’t get enough credit for what happens here,” team president Jonathan Kraft said at the end of the 2014 regular season. “Nick is a unique guy. He joined us at the lowest level. He has coached, he has scouted, he has done the job of the guy running the front office, looking at the salary cap and the administrative stuff.
“For a guy his age, he really has a lot of NFL experience under his belt, and he and Bill have a great trust with each other. Nick is a big part of what we do here.”
The Patriots signed Caserio to a contract extension in December that takes him through the 2020 season, suggesting that Belichick will coach with the Patriots that long (perhaps Tom Brady will play quarterback that long, as well).
That Caserio signed the extension and took himself off the market speaks to how special his relationship is with Belichick and the Patriots.
Several former Patriots executives have left Foxborough to become their own boss, including Thomas Dimitroff, Pioli, and Jason Licht. Caserio interviewed twice for the Dolphins GM job in 2014, but toward the end of a special season, he decided to take himself out of consideration and re-up as Belichick’s trusty sidekick for another six years.
“The Kraft family has been extremely generous to me and my family, and there’s no other coach in football I’d work alongside than Bill Belichick,” Caserio said. “I like being here, I like winning, and I enjoy my role.
“I have plenty of responsibility and I enjoy being a part of a winning culture and a winning organization. I feel blessed to be here and to have the opportunity that I have, really grateful, and hopefully we can continue to win some games along the way.”