Four NFL franchises currently have their rosters run by former Patriots executives.
And in Detroit, Atlanta, Tennessee and Tampa Bay things are either looking up or already there. First-year GMs Bob Quinn (Lions) and John Robinson (Titans) both saw improvement (7-9 to 9-7 and a playoff berth for Detroit; 3-13 to 9-7 for the Titans).
Jason Licht, whose Patriots roots aren’t quite as deep (two tours of duty in New England, the second from 2009-2011), is overseeing the impressive rise of the Bucs (9-7). And in Atlanta, the men that helped build the roster that won three Super Bowls in four seasons with the Patriots -- Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff -- have guided the Falcons to an 11-5 season.
And that brings us to Nick Caserio. As all these guys who worked under him have quick success and the guys he learned under keep plugging along, Caserio is still here.
Still here even though he’s among the best execs in the league and has been for a while.
Putting it plainly, there is no personnel man in the league has a better resume than he does when it comes to exhausting all avenues of player acquisition.
Just going off the current roster of recent pickups is fascinating. Caserio’s brought on players in the draft (Malcolm Mitchell, Joe Thuney and Vincent Valentine this season after the league took the team’s first-rounder). He’s brought them in as rookie free agents (Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones), in-season trades (Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas, Kyle Van Noy), waiver claims (Michael Floyd), restricted free agents (Chris Hogan) unrestricted free agents (Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard).
He’s built depth at the most important position on the field -- quarterback -- where the Patriots are three-deep. He’s put together complex contracts like the one with Rob Gronkowski and made sure the middle-class was well-paid as it developed (Marcus Cannon). He’s reeled free agents back in after they hit the market (Devin McCourty) and made extremely difficult moves that would make most personnel men blanch (trading Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones). He’s good at keeping the team away from mortgaging its future and he’s been outstanding at leveraging it with trades to pick up draft picks.
Because of the overwhelming shadow Bill Belichick casts on all things Patriots, Caserio isn’t singularly recognized as being the one behind personnel moves even though Belichick doles out the credit to Caserio all year long as being the one doing the negotiations and overseeing the pro and college personnel and scouting departments. Caserio wouldn’t do anything without Belichick’s tacit or direct approval but there’s a whole lot that Belichick knows he doesn’t have to worry about because Caserio is on it. He’s on everything.
Because the Patriots’ staff whole football operation is small and close-knit, Caserio is able to get his hands dirty on the coaching side of things when necessary. Which makes sense because that’s where he started with the team back in 2002. He doesn’t do so in a way that Bigfoots the operation, more as someone seeing as much as he can and helping where hands are needed.
Having taken over the personnel role after Pioli left, Caserio’s seen some stuff too. Whether it be bad big-ticket signings like Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis, the tragic disaster that was Aaron Hernandez or the recently scrutinized decision to not only claim a guy like Floyd four days after a DUI but to pick him up at a cost of $1.2M for four games' work.
How a team and a GM properly deals with miscalculations like signings gone bad or the absolute worst-case scenario like Hernandez, corrects its mistakes and carries on is not something that can be taught. It’s got to be lived. And while no owner is going to go there on the day Caserio is hired somewhere else -- if he ever is -- knowing that Caserio’s got experience in all manner of crisis management is a selling point.
There aren’t a lot of GM jobs out there right now and the one that’s emerged -- San Fran -- comes with the unappetizing prospect of working for Jed York, President of the Lucky Sperm Club, Bay Area Chapter.
The Niners are trying to interview both Caserio and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels this week. Landing them as a package deal and then extracting Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots would be more than York deserves.
But this is worth remembering. As brilliant as McDaniels is and as much as Tom Brady loves working with him, Caserio is the possible loss that should make Patriots fans quiver. He is a lobe of Belichick’s brain at this point. Also, he’s been here since Belichick was only about a Level 3 genius. He’s been here for years that weren’t awesome. He can give the pushback or dissenting viewpoint when necessary because -- while Belichick is a football deity -- Caserio’s seen him naked (figuratively speaking).
In other words, as much as Nick Caserio deserves the recognition that would come with teams courting him to run their programs, if you like the Patriots the way they are -- dominant -- you don’t really want to see that happen.