What Texans' hire of Nick Caserio as GM means for the Patriots

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Tom E. Curran
·6 min read
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Curran: Key takeaways with Caserio bolting for Texans originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Does the league vote on the Houston Texans ownership transfer to Jack Easterby or is that just assumed?

There’s plenty to chew on with Houston’s hiring of Nick Caserio. Before we start that, the Machiavellian maneuvering of Angles Easterby has to be saluted.

Less than two months ago, after weeks of blowback in Houston about Easterby’s ever-growing role and concern that he’d executed a coup, Texans owner Cal McNair tried to marginalize the role Easterby was playing in the organization.

A search firm was retained to recommend candidates. They came back with five. Caserio was not on the list.

So from cozying up to Caserio at the Patriots June 2019 ring ceremony, requesting permission to speak with him, getting cuffed with a tampering charge, backing off the request to now securing Caserio, Easterby’s gotten his guy. It’s amazing.

A few more takeaways on the departure of the Patriots longtime personnel man.

IS JOSH MCDANIELS NEXT?

The hue and cry in Houston over another Patriots staffer coming to town is already loud enough.

Even though the relationship between Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Caserio goes back to college, don’t presume McDaniels will be headed there. The Bill O’Brien Experience remains an open wound. McDaniels would be a very hard sell.

Breer: How McDaniels' coaching outlook may have changed

Brian Daboll, the Bills offensive coordinator, was a former Patriots assistant as well. But he’s got enough buffer between his time here and a possible emergence in Houston. Watch his name as a possibility.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE OFFSEASON? WHO’S IN CHARGE?

This year’s draft is unique. For many college teams, there was no season at all. Some of the best collegiate players opted out. Scouts couldn’t visit campuses and do the gumshoe work so necessary to knowing everything they can about players. The Combine and pre-draft process are going to be stripped down. Bill Belichick talked about the uncertainty earlier this week.

“We’ll see what it is this spring,” he said in the post-mortem video conference Monday. “I don’t know. If this spring is the same as last spring, then it will be about the same as last spring -- virtual interviews with the players and the information as you can get it and so forth. In terms of the past, no NFL scout was on campus to talk to players, talk to coaches or watch practice or anything like that. There were games that you could buy tickets to to go to the game, but that’s the way it was for the entire league. Again, how all that will be going forward, I don’t know. …You just have to evaluate what you have to evaluate. You know, less information is less information. That’s really all there is to it, and what we’ll be able to do this spring or what we won’t be able to do is yet to be determined.”

The Patriots knew Caserio leaving could come to pass. And there are people in the scouting department -- Dave Ziegler, primarily -- who are presumed to be next in line to succeed him.

Perry's Mock Draft: Will Pats add a QB in Round 1?

But a lot of institutional knowledge for what Belichick wants, what McDaniels wants and what to stay away from accompanies Caserio out the door. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. New broom sweeps clean and all that. But in the end, this is Belichick’s process and his say on players is what carries the day. So it’s doubtful Ziegler or anyone will come in and enact a new way of doing business.

The more interesting impact could be felt in free agency where the Patriots have over $60M in cap space. And that could grow quite a bit if Stephon Gilmore is traded and Dont'a Hightower retires.

There’s a fleet of veteran Patriots with expiring contracts and there will be significant courting and negotiating for the team to do in order to land the guys they need to rebuild. Belichick is going to have to be significantly involved, I would suspect.

THE EXODUS CONTINUES

In late 2017, I wrote about the end-of-the-run feeling that had permeated the team.

That offseason, Matt Patricia went to Detroit, the Patriots talked Josh McDaniels out of going to Indianapolis. Since then, Joe Judge, Brian Flores, Jerry Schuplinski, Chad O’Shea, Josh Boyer and others have left the coaching ranks. Monti Ossenfort and now Caserio have left a couple of the top spots in personnel/scouting.

The primary reason guys are going? Teams are hitting up Patriots employees with chances to advance their careers. That means more money, expanded roles, more decorative titles. Does it also say something about where the Patriots have been, are and may be headed? Yes.

Breer: Caserio departure continues 'brain drain' in Pats front office

The coaching staffs and scouting departments here are small, which means the workloads are significant. The expectations and “No Days Off” mentality for that staff is onerous. The pay isn’t over-the-top generous and the team’s future is murky. The grass is and has been greener elsewhere.

IS CASERIO EVEN GOOD?

As much as I’ve pummeled the team for its draft floppage and willful disregard for positions of need, that buck stops with Belichick. Caserio isn’t going to say, “Let’s take N’Keal Harry!” unless the combined research and conversations between him, his staff and Belichick landed him at the top of their 2019 wideout board.

Am I saying, “It’s not Nick’s fault”? Kind of.

Where Caserio isn’t blameless -- or at least above questioning -- is in how much he was willing to give Belichick spirited debate. Indications I’ve gotten are that Caserio wasn’t one to challenge Belichick. And the lack of anyone who’ll say, “Bill, I disagree and we need to do something different ...” is obvious. And it includes ownership to a large degree as well.

But ownership shouldn’t have to intervene in football conversations. That should be the role of the head personnel man. But Belichick adroitly avoided giving Caserio a VP title the same way he did with Scott Pioli a decade before. And Caserio -- like everyone else on the staff -- came to the Patriots in 2001 when Belichick was morphing into a football deity.

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It’s hard to tell a guy as accomplished as Belichick who’s in large part responsible for your professional success and personal comfort that he’s doing it wrong.

With the sway to do it his own way, it will be interesting to see how Caserio performs. And that’s what will be fascinating.

Think about this: The Patriots may have had more success with undrafted players in the past seven seasons than they did with picks in the first three rounds. David Andrews, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Malcolm Butler, Adam Butler, you get the point.

And later-round picks. They’ve done a great job. Aggressive trades at the deadline. Mid-tier free agents. Cap maneuvering. There are some dud deals and the draft stuff is what it is. But Caserio has more experience than anyone in the league at working phones, relationships and different avenues for collecting talent. That’s what makes him a great hire. Along with the fact that he’s as decent and diligent a guy as I’ve covered down there.