FOXBORO — The Patriots clearly weren't thrilled with Houston's pursuit of Nick Caserio this offseason. They filed tampering charges until the Texans (very publicly, thanks to a statement from Texans owner Cal McNair) dropped their pursuit of New England's director of player personnel.
Asked about the attempted hiring of Caserio by the Texans on Thursday morning, Bill Belichick called it "all water under the bridge."
Maybe. But if Caserio were to let his contract run out following the 2020 draft, it seems pretty clear he would be the top candidate for Houston's general manager job. That's an up-and-coming AFC foe, it appears, and Caserio could very well be running the operation in less than a year, working alongside former Patriots character coach Jack Easterby, who left New England to take on a role as executive vice president of team development for the Texans.
Houston has gone so far as to not hire a general manager this year, seemingly keeping the seat open for when Caserio comes available.
That could create a bit of an awkward situation here in Foxboro if Caserio is a GM-in-waiting, though Belichick didn't linger on any hard-to-deal-with changes that this offseason may have created.
I asked Belichick, ahead of the first day of Patriots training camp practice, if he anticipated Caserio having a similar on-the-field role for the Patriots this summer.
"We have had a number of changes on the staff," Belichick said. "Not everything will be exactly the same as it's been. It's not that way anyways. I'm sure a lot of things will be the same. There may be a few differences. There's differences for all of us. There's differences for me. There's differences for other coaches. I'm sure it'll be a little bit of both. Each year is a little bit different."
Caserio's coaching chops help make him one of the most versatile executives in the NFL. He served as Patriots receivers coach in 2007 when Randy Moss went on to set a record for touchdown receptions in a season. His qualifications could be particularly useful this year given that the team lost longtime wideout coach Chad O'Shea to the Dolphins.
Joe Judge now has the dual responsibilities of receivers coach and special teams coach. Might it make sense, Belichick was asked, if Caserio gave Judge a hand?
"Nick helps in a lot of ways," Belichick said. "He has a lot of experience. I'm sure he does much more than any personnel person in the league does with his added coaching responsibilities and his interaction with the coaching staff. He's a great asset in a number of areas."
When the Texans were looking to hire Caserio, there was some question as to whether or not he was a "high-level employee." That type of employee can't be pursued while under contract. But, by rule, that type of employee doesn't have to have final say over the 53-man roster.
Caserio doesn't. But is he New England's "primary football executive?" Here's what Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran wrote back on June 11.
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.
Is Caserio the "primary" authority on things like free-agent signings, the draft and trades? The Patriots could potentially make the argument that he is since he's running point on so many of those aspects of roster building — even while Belichick has final say on those calls.
Either way, Caserio is here. And Belichick still considers him a "great asset." We'll see if his on-the-field role has been changed at all following an unusual spring, but the Patriots could certainly benefit from his coaching experience in a season where the transition among those ranks has been significant.
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