Last June — for the second time in 18 months — the Houston Texans tried to pry longtime Patriots personnel man Nick Caserio from New England.
Unlike the first time when the Patriots merely blocked Caserio from interviewing, the Patriots leveled a tampering charge at the Texans the second time around.
So who tampered?
It was widely reported that Jack Easterby, the Patriots former team chaplain who jumped to the Texans in the offseason, was the presumed tamperer. Easterby attended the Patriots ring ceremony just days before the Texans unexpectedly fired their GM Brian Gaine and took up pursuit of Caserio. Those dots were connected and away we went.
It was an interesting bit of intrigue dropped into the NFL dead period, especially since the relationship between the Patriots' and Texans' personnel under former Patriots coach Bill O’Brien appeared friendly enough until the tampering charges came down.
Nobody likes getting tampered with.
And, truth be told, not a lot of people like getting blocked from interviewing for an opportunity that could pay more money and afford greater responsibility.
The Texans pulled their pursuit of Caserio a couple of days after the Patriots filed their charge with CEO Cal McNair releasing a statement that said, “We have now been made aware of certain terms in Nick’s contract with the Patriots. Once we were made aware of these contract terms, I informed Mr. Kraft that we would stop pursuing Nick.”
So did that settle that?
Bill Belichick would like to think so. On Wednesday, asked about “residual” irritation with Houston and Easterby’s involvement ahead of this weekend’s game against Houston, Belichick said, “That didn’t have anything to do with Jack Easterby. All that’s in the past.”
Similarly, O’Brien was in “nothing to see here…” mode.
“Whatever happened, happened,” he told the Houston media. “There are no hard feelings. I mean, we have a lot of respect for the Patriots. I have a lot of respect for Bill (Belichick). I'm very grateful to Bill for the opportunities he gave me. And then obviously I have a lot of close friends on the staff over there that I worked with. So, there's no, none of that, not on our end."
No player or coach on either side is going to prepare, scheme, block, tackle or run harder on Sunday night because the Texans tried to hire Nick Caserio in June.
But it isn’t “all in the past” either. Caserio’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Texans still haven’t filled their GM position. It will likely take a lot of persuading for the Patriots to retain Caserio, who’s been one of the team’s most valuable employees for two decades.
It’s hard to get a read on who was more pissed at the Texans: ownership or football.
Robert Kraft has shown practically since the moment he took over the team that he’s going to bareknuckles fight for what he believes is contractually his. The notion — disputed by Belichick but, again, widely reported — that the Patriots' suspicion arose from Easterby cozying up to Caserio at Kraft’s home didn’t pop from someone’s imagination.
Throw another log on the fire for suspecting it was Robert Kraft who was most irked? It was reported after Easterby left that part of his motivation was disappointment in Kraft’s West Palm Beach peccadilloes.
Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal reported the team was “livid” when Easterby went to the Texans.
Meanwhile, if you’re Bill Belichick, you are also saying, “WTF!?” when news comes your top personnel guy is being poached with training camp 40 days away.
And not just a top personnel guy. A personnel guy/contract negotiator/coach/coordinator/practice arm with an impeccable work ethic and scruples who can be relied upon to know what the head coach wants before the head coach knows he wants it.
O’Brien knows how important Caserio is to the Patriots. So why would his team fire Gaine and begin pursuit of Caserio — basically their only target — unless it had been somehow communicated to Houston that Caserio was ready, willing and able to report to duty in Houston?
Someone told somebody something.
Last week, in Belichick delivered his latest ode to Caserio.
“Nick has a vast amount of experience and talent in a number of different areas,” Belichick began. “…(He) can do so many different things and do them well that we can utilize him in the areas we feel will have the biggest impact and the most effect on positive results for our team. We’ve always done that. We’ll continue to do it. He’s coached multiple positions, had multiple responsibilities in the personnel department, continues to have a strong role in both areas.
"It’s a pretty full plate,” Belichick added. “Sometimes it gets divided differently, but it is usually full and sometimes spilling over the edge a little bit. He does a great job in all those areas and has been extremely valuable to me on so many levels for such a long time. When things pop up that need to be done, it’s hard to find maybe a younger person, a less experienced person on your staff or in your organization to do those things, you look at him and say he can do them and that maybe allows you to shuffle some things in other areas.”
For his part, Caserio addressed the issue during training camp. He said the right things about being happy and focused but nothing about what his future plans may be after the year.
So while the tampering imbroglio may be in the past and have zero effect on Sunday night, the Texans’ interest in Caserio is just hibernating for now. And what Caserio winds up doing will impact the Patriots in the future.
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