The perception outside the Patriots for years has been that Nick Caserio is Bill Belichick's Igor. Just following orders. No autonomy. Meanwhile - and tellingly - Belichick has always gone out of his way to not only laud his Director of Player Personnel but remind people just how much he does.
Caserio quarterbacked free agency - the targets, the visits, the negotiations - to the point where Belichick has often been out of pocket when free agency begins.
Caserio - until the past two years - has done the predraft press conferences. Caserio and Belichick share personnel duties even though Belichick has final authority. It could be argued he is a high-level club employee even without the "VP" title. What's that mean? It means the Patriots don't have to give permission to him to interview for the suddenly vacant GM job in Houston.
Here's the relevant rule:
"An individual who is the primary football executive for the club and who has
(i) The primary authority over all personnel decisions related to the signing of free agents, the selection of players in the College Draft, trades and related decisions; and
(ii) The primary responsibility for coordinating other football activities with the head coach.
Final authority regarding the composition of the 53-player roster is not a requirement.
Except as may be otherwise provided in such contract, 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 in the inquiring club is prepared to offer the employee a position of greater responsibility within the category of high-level club employee. "
So here's the conundrum. The Patriots can - as they did two years ago - block Caserio from interviewing with the Texans. They did the same thing with Monti Ossenfort.
Why would they do that? Well, Caserio is a longtime valued employee who does myriad things - personnel, scouting, coaching among them - for the Patriots. Losing him will make them worse. The Texans are a very real AFC rival. Getting him will make them better. If they can do it, it doesn't take much to figure that they would.
He'd be upset? That concern hasn't stopped Belichick in the past from blocking.
The Patriots have shown no inclination to be a team that will simply say, "If you don't want to be here, go ahead." They haven't been that way since 1997 and they may not be that way now even though it's almost impossible to find a more honest, hardworking, by the book, employee than Caserio.
Of course, Houston wouldn't fire Brian Gaine without a plan in place to replace him. They must think they can get Caserio - who they've requested permission to speak with - either because they've already cleared it with the Patriots or they are ready to fight to pry him loose.
Weirdly, former Patriots team chaplain and now current Texans VP of player development Jack Easterby is at the center of this. Everyone from players to ownership has lined up over the past few years to publicly sing Easterby's hosannas but there's also been a perception I've heard voiced that it's odd to have a chaplain who gains confidential information and insight as a spiritual advisor then passes that information on to the people who make the employment decisions.
If it does come to a fight, can the Patriots make a persuasive argument that Caserio is a high-level employee they can block? And where do all the relationships go?
The Patriots have kept their core together longer than anyone had a right to expect they could. Since 2017, they've lost two defensive coordinators a pack of assistants and they pulled out all the stops to make sure they didn't lose others like Josh McDaniels and Joe Judge. It's what Belichick's always called a high-class problem. Success means other teams want your employees. When other teams get them, those former employees want people they are familiar with.
We don't know definitively whether Caserio desires the job or whether Belichick would be inclined to stop him. What we do know - because Belichick himself has so often told us - is that Caserio is one of the most valuable employees not just to the Patriots but to any team in the NFL.
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