FOXBOROUGH — Nick Caserio doesn’t speak on camera too often. The Patriots trot him out to the podium once per year, and it’s always about the NFL Draft. Sometimes he does the predraft news conference about a week before the event, and sometimes he does the nightly wrap-ups after the picks have been made.
Yet Friday, the Patriots announced out of the blue that Caserio would be giving a news conference on Saturday morning. It was time to rip off the Band-Aid.
That whole episode with the Texans from June was still lingering. You remember, the Texans abruptly fired their general manager on a Friday, zeroed in immediately on Caserio, but backed off after the Patriots filed tampering charges with the league office, then made the Texans aware of a clause in Caserio’s contract that prevents him from interviewing with other teams.
Caserio remains with the Patriots for 2019 as their director of player personnel, but the Texans chose not to fill their GM position. And Caserio’s contract expires after the NFL Draft next April.
You do the math.
This marked the second time that the Patriots blocked Caserio from interviewing with the Texans for their GM position. The first came in January 2018, when the job eventually went to Brian Gaine. When the Texans fired Gaine 16 months later, the Patriots blocked Caserio again.
Coach Bill Belichick was asked about the episode on Thursday, and he called it “water under the bridge.” Belichick was asked a few follow-ups, and he scowled at the reporter.
“I’ve never talked about contracts, so I’m not going to start talking about them now,” he said. “I don’t know why you would bring it up.”
But Belichick knew that this story wouldn’t totally die until Caserio addressed it himself.
Enter Saturday morning’s rare news conference. After a five-minute opening statement in which he talked about everything but the Texans, Caserio finally took a handful of questions about the situation.
How do you feel about how it all went down?
“I would say I’m pretty honored and privileged to be in the position I’m in,” Caserio said. “I’m fortunate and honored to work with Bill on a day-to-day basis and a lot of other people in this building. My job is really just to serve the people that are in this building . . . and be the best version of myself for this team and this organization.”
Is it hard to work for the Patriots this year after being blocked for a second time?
“I love being here and right now we’re focused on trying to get the team ready for this season,” he said.
Are you disappointed you didn’t get a chance to interview?
“Look, I’m in a great position. I’ve got a great opportunity each day to come in here and serve this team, this organization,” Caserio said. “I enjoy doing that, and that’s what I’m excited to do and I’m going to continue to do that to the best of my ability.”
Do you want to be a general manager with sole decision-making?
“I’m not really focused on the hypotheticals,” he said.
Has your role changed this year with the Patriots?
“We just come in each day, try to figure out where we are as a team, what our needs are as a team, and then all of our responsibility is to chip in and serve the team,” Caserio said.
Label the news conference: mission accomplished. Caserio said little of substance, but now he and Belichick can credibly say, “We’ve already addressed that,” if it ever comes up again in a media setting. And if you don’t believe in coincidences, Saturday’s news conference could also be the Patriots trying to prove that Caserio is in fact their GM, and that they were justified in blocking his interview for a lateral job move.
But the lack of direct answers or denials from Caserio tells us everything we need to know. He left the door wide open for the Texans job.
The Patriots now have until April to convince him to stay. They also could see about trading him to the Texans for a draft pick between February and April instead of losing him for nothing.
Caserio, like a lot of football men, wants to be a GM, and the Texans job is definitely a good one. Caserio would get to work with two ex-Patriots in Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby. The Texans have the most important element — a good, young quarterback in Deshaun Watson. They have two of the best pass rushers on the planet, the best wide receiver in football, and a playoff-caliber roster. Plus, who wouldn’t want a job that comes with a better title and a likely pay raise?
But what makes this episode so interesting is that the Texans job isn’t a slam-dunk promotion for Caserio. He’d still be working for a coach named Bill — this one named O’Brien — who has at least as much power over the roster as the GM does, if not more. Two GMs have been fired in the last two years in Houston, and O’Brien has emerged each time with more power. The last guy, Gaine, was fired after just 16 months because he didn’t work well with O’Brien.
That’s another thing about the Texans job — it’s not as stable as the Patriots. Gaine got axed after just two seasons. O’Brien may not be feeling so comfortable, with just one playoff win in five seasons. Could a house cleaning come if the Texans don’t win in the next two years? Meanwhile, Caserio, entering his 19th season with the Patriots and 12th as the top personnel man under Belichick, could probably work in Foxborough another 30 years if he wants. He could wait for Belichick to retire to take over as GM, and win a few more Super Bowls along the way.
And, oh yeah, which team gives Caserio a better chance of winning the Super Bowl, the Patriots or Texans?
And yet Caserio wants the Texans job, anyway. Maybe it’s just about the money and the title and the chance to get out from under Belichick’s wing.
But if Saturday’s news conference told us anything, it’s that Caserio still has his eye on Houston.