Is a battle for Nick Caserio shaping up between Patriots and Texans?

Is a battle for Nick Caserio shaping up between Patriots and Texans?

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.  

Phil Perry's post-minicamp 53-man roster projection>>>>

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Awesome NFL video highlights all 36 turnovers forced by Patriots defense in 2019

Awesome NFL video highlights all 36 turnovers forced by Patriots defense in 2019

The New England Patriots defense ranked among the NFL's best in 2019, and a huge reason for this unit's success was its ability to force turnovers.

The Patriots forced the second-most turnovers in the league with 36 during the regular season. They also led the league with 25 interceptions and a plus-21 turnover differential. Veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore tied for the league lead with six interceptions and was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.

It's safe to say the Patriots defense was aggressive and opportunistic throughout 2019, and it certainly helped overcome some of the team's offensive struggles during the second half of the campaign.

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Check out all of the turnovers forced by New England's defense last season in the video below:

The Patriots' Super Bowl title defense ended surprisingly early with an AFC Wild Card loss to the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. The defense played pretty well, holding the Titans to just 13 offensive points. Tom Brady and his offense couldn't generate much of anything versus the Titans defense, though, and the Patriots lost 20-13.

New England's defense could look much different in 2020. The unit has several key players eligible for unrestricted free agency, including safety Devin McCourty, linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, among others.

Curran: Where things stand for Brady, Pats a month from free agency

Chris Simms' Tom Brady-Ryan Tannehill take may grind Patriots fans' gears

Chris Simms' Tom Brady-Ryan Tannehill take may grind Patriots fans' gears

We can understand Derrick Henry supporting Ryan Tannehill amid speculation that Tom Brady may consider joining to the Tennessee Titans.

Tannehill is Henry's quarterback, after all. He's not going to throw him under the bus.

But Chris Simms has no stake in the game -- and still believes the Titans would be better off with Tannehill than the six-time Super Bowl champion in 2020.

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Here's Simms on Wednesday's edition of NBC Sports PFT Live with Mike Florio:


"Everybody out there: You're crazy!" Simms said. "Tom Brady is not better than Ryan Tannehill right now! I'm just sorry! 

"I know Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback ever, certainly the most accomplished. (He's) the man. But that doesn't mean he's the best in 2020."

Simms didn't stop there, suggesting the Titans may not have defeated the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round if Brady was under center instead of Tannehill.

"The Titans weren't a team that had weapons galore," Simms said "They didn't have great weapons (either). We didn't really know about A.J. Brown until Ryan Tannehill got in there."

Got all that, Patriots fans?

This kind of take is nothing new from Simms, who ranked Brady as the NFL's ninth-best quarterback last summer and put Matthew Stafford ahead of the 14-time Pro Bowler at the midseason point.

He's also not wrong that Tannehill was excellent last season, leading the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6) and ranking second in touchdown percentage (7.7 percent) while going 7-3 as Tennessee's starter.

But 10 starts do not an elite quarterback make -- especially a QB who had the NFL's 2019 leading rusher (Henry) taking the heat off him.

Were Brady's numbers worse than Tannehill's in 2019? Sure. His 6.6 yards per attempt were the second-lowest of his career, while his 3.9 touchdown percentage represented his lowest rate ever.

As Patriots fans will tell you, though, Brady also helped a team with a revolving door of mediocre offensive weapons score the seventh-most points in the NFL while finishing 12-4.

All debates aside, the money could prove Brady's worth compared to Tannehill: The former may command north of $30 million in free agency, while the latter might be several million below that number.

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