Apparently, the relationship between the Patriots and Bill O’Brien isn’t as rosy as we had thought.
A league source confirmed that the Patriots filed tampering charges with the NFL office against O’Brien’s Houston Texans Wednesday regarding the pursuit of Nick Caserio for their vacant general manager position. The league office will now look into the matter and gather facts before determining whether any punishment is appropriate.
The Texans had asked for permission to interview Caserio, New England’s director of player personnel, after firing former GM Brian Gaine last Friday, but the Patriots apparently believe the Texans overstepped their bounds in trying to persuade him to leave New England.
The teams may be battling over whether Caserio is considered a “high-level” employee. If the NFL determines that Caserio is one — rather than an “other club employee” — then per the league’s tampering policy, the Patriots would be under no obligation to let Caserio interview for the Texans job, even if it is considered a promotion.
Caserio doesn’t have the GM title in New England, but he performs many GM functions, and even sat in on the GM group photo at the owners meetings in March.
The fact that the Patriots filed the charges shows that the fight over Caserio is getting nasty. NFL teams rarely accuse each other of tampering, operating on a gentleman’s agreement to allow coaches, scouts, and executives to talk employment with other teams.
The Patriots haven’t filed tampering charges since 2015, and it was against their arch rivals, the New York Jets, who were fined $100,000 for comments made by then-owner Woody Johnson about cornerback Darrelle Revis. Teams also can lose draft picks if the tampering is found to be egregious enough.
The case is doubly fascinating given all of the connections. O’Brien, the Texans’ head coach for five seasons, was an offensive coach and coordinator in New England from 2007-11. And one of the Texans’ top front office executives is Jack Easterby, who was a Patriots executive and character coach from 2013-18.
O’Brien was thought to be on good terms with Bill Belichick and the Krafts, but perhaps he is not. Easterby left the Patriots in February on good terms with Belichick, but his relationship with the Kraft family was more strained.
Sony Michel missed the final stages of the Patriots’ offseason program because he had an arthroscopic procedure done on his knee, according to a league source.
The second-year running back, New England’s leader a season ago with 209 rushes for 931 yards and 6 touchdowns, is expected to be ready for training camp in late July.
Michel was a beast in the playoffs, rushing 71 times for 336 yards and 6 TDs. He capped his first NFL season by scoring the only touchdown in New England’s 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
It’s unclear when Michel had the scope, but he wasn’t on hand for any of the practices (one OTA session and three minicamp workouts) that reporters were allowed to watch.
The Patriots have a deep tailback corps led by veterans James White, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden. In addition, they selected Alabama’s Damien Harris in the third round of the draft and signed LSU’s Nick Brossette as an undrafted rookie.
Brossette also was not spotted during the offseason program, though the reason for his absence is undisclosed.
Though Michel’s most recent procedure is considered minor, the 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pounder does have a history of knee issues.
The second of New England’s two-first round picks in 2018, Michel missed a late chunk of his rookie training camp because of knee surgery. The Georgia product also missed a pair of games last season after he suffered a knee injury against the Bears in October.
Michel suffered a torn ACL in high school and hurt his knee again during the 2017 Southeastern Conference championship game.