It was time for Nick Caserio.
He'd been with the Patriots for two decades. He'd served as a scout, director of pro personnel, receivers coach, director of player personnel and coaching assistant at the press box level on game days. He'd helped the team win six rings by playing a key role in drafting, signing and acquiring via trade cornerstone pieces for those championship clubs.
It's Bill Belichick's show in Foxboro. But Caserio was his right-hand man, his boots on the ground, the brain Belichick trusted to carry out the day-to-day front-office operation as Belichick wanted.
But Caserio was past due, really, to take leave of the environment he'd called home for so long and take on a different kind of challenge.
And it will be a challenge. While Caserio leaves behind a roster in Foxboro that is in desperate need of restocking, the one he inherits in Houston ain't all that structurally sound either.
"Top-heavy" feels apt.
Yes, Caserio has one of the best quarterbacks in football around whom to build. But as masterful as Deshaun Watson's quarterbacking has become -- there's a case to be made he was the third-best passer in football this year behind Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes -- the Texans were still able to manage just four wins in 2020.
Caserio has no first or second-round picks in the draft this spring. If the salary cap falls to around $175 million due to COVID-related revenue losses this season, his team is already scheduled to be over the cap by almost $20 million. That's before signing a single free agent or rookie.
Caserio will have to make cost-cutting decisions that'll weigh on him and present him an early public-relations minefield. Longtime face of the franchise JJ Watt, going into his 11th season, is set to make $17.5 million -- none of which is guaranteed. Brandin Cooks is on the books for $12 million, but like Watt's dough, none of it is guaranteed.
David Johnson, one of the headline pieces the Texans received in their disastrous trade of DeAndre Hopkins, could be released to save the team almost $7 million. Center Nick Martin could save the team another $6.25 million if released. Releasing running back Duke Johnson and linebacker Bernardrick McKinney could save the team another $12 million.
The issue is, some of those names are among the team's best players. And to subtract from a four-win team, with little money to spend, without high-end draft picks to cash in . . . things could get worse for Caserio before they get better.
But if anyone understands how to get creative with the resources at his disposal, it should be Caserio. And he'll have to get creative quickly, as Watson's salary-cap figures skyrocket to $40.4 and $42.4 in 2022 and 2023.
Working under Belichick, Caserio and the Patriots found success with myriad undrafted rookies (Malcolm Butler, David Andrews, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson and others). They mined Day 3 of the draft for diamonds in the rough (Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Marcus Cannon, James White, Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, Jake Bailey, Mike Onwenu). They executed pick-swap deals to receive reclamation-project players in return (Martellus Bennett, Kyle Van Noy, Trent Brown, Danny Shelton, Jason McCourty).
There are avenues available to Caserio to try to procure talent. And he'll have to exhaust 'em all in order not to "waste" another one of Watson's prime years.