Nick Caserio has to be asking himself two questions this week as the Houston Texans vie for his services as their next general manager:
Will the Patriots let Caserio interview for the job?
And is this really the job worth leaving for?
The first question is being debated by the Patriots and the Texans. The Patriots previously blocked Caserio from interviewing for the Texans’ GM job in January 2018 (and blocked Monti Ossenfort, their director of college scouting, as well). But the Texans reportedly have Caserio at the top of their list again and have formally requested an interview. It is not known whether Bill Belichick is ready to ease his grip on Caserio, a Patriot since 2001 and now their director of player personnel.
The NFL’s tampering policy appears pretty cut-and-dried:
“A club is not obligated to grant another club permission to discuss employment with a high-level employee if he or she is under contract, even if the inquiring club is prepared to offer the employee a position of greater responsibility.”
But the fact that it is even being debated suggests that Caserio has a clause in his contract allowing him to pursue such jobs. Or that he thinks the NFL policy isn’t so cut-and-dried. Or that the Patriots are trying to pry a draft pick or two out of the Texans in exchange, which is allowed.
More important, Caserio has to ask himself whether the Texans job is really worth leaving for.
Caserio, like many scouts and personnel men, wants to become a general manager. But he has a perfect situation in New England, meaning that if he is going to leave to become a GM, it had better be for another perfect situation. And this Houston job does not look perfect.
Yes, on paper, it looks like a great fit. The Texans are coming off an 11-5 season and have the elements to be a contender: a dynamic young quarterback, an electric wide receiver, and two of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The head coach, Bill O’Brien, is an old Patriots confidant. And emerging with more power after last Friday’s firing of former Texans GM Brian Gaine is Jack Easterby, who just joined Houston after spending six seasons in Belichick’s inner circle in Foxborough.
We know that Caserio will listen to offers. An interview with the Dolphins in January 2014 is the only known interview he has had. But he has been linked to the 49ers, Giants, and Texans in recent years and has been listening each offseason. His agent has been trying hard to get him a GM job.
But this Houston job has a few “buyer beware” signs that should give Caserio pause.
One, he’d be joining a team in midstream, inheriting a veteran-laden roster that has been built by Gaine and before him Rick Smith. If I were Caserio, I’d rather my first GM job come with a team that is rebuilding, so you can have total control in shaping the roster.
Two, Houston might not be the most stable place in the NFL right now. O’Brien seems to be squarely on the hot seat, with a 42-38 record in five seasons, and just 1-3 in the playoffs. Gaine lasted just 16 months on the job before he was surprisingly axed. Founding owner Bob McNair was patient, standing by Gary Kubiak as coach for eight seasons, but McNair died last year, and no one knows whether his son, Cal McNair, will be so patient with this football staff.
Three, is Houston really a better job than the one Caserio has in New England? He doesn’t have total control over the roster here — that would belong to Belichick — and he doesn’t have the GM title. But he does just about everything else. He chooses the free agents, negotiates the contracts, works out the college kids, plays quarterback in practice, talks on the headset from the press box during games, and sits in on the general managers photo at the owners meetings each March. He makes a good living (likely several million per season), and, oh, by the way, he wins Super Bowls almost every year.
In Houston, the Texans proved with last week’s sacking of Gaine that O’Brien has the juice in the building. Caserio might get the GM title, but he wouldn’t have more power than O’Brien and wouldn’t get to pick the players (especially this year, with the draft and free agency already complete).
The Patriots have been able to withstand the losses of most coaches and executives over the years, but losing Caserio unquestionably would hurt. There has been a significant brain drain in Foxborough over the last two years, with several longtime trusted staffers leaving for other opportunities: Matt Patricia, Brian Flores, Chad O’Shea, Easterby, and a handful of assistant coaches.
In a vacuum, the Patriots can replace each person individually. Belichick always has a pipeline of eager young coaches and executives waiting. If Caserio left, Ossenfort or Dave Ziegler, the director of pro personnel, could replace him in the front office.
But part of the Patriots’ advantage over the rest of the NFL has been their continuity and institutional knowledge, and a lot of that has walked out the door the last two years. Caserio has been a part of all six Super Bowl wins and, as mentioned, does pretty much everything for the team. The Patriots shouldn’t let Caserio go lightly.
But even if the Patriots do let him pursue the Houston job, Caserio should think twice about taking it. He undoubtedly is getting restless in Foxborough and wants to be in charge of his own team. But he has a good thing going in New England, and the Houston job comes with significant question marks.