Patriots

Texans' controversial pursuit of Patriots' Nick Caserio remains source of intrigue

Texans' controversial pursuit of Patriots' Nick Caserio remains source of intrigue

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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Let the Terrell Suggs speculation begin: Ravens reunion? Patriots pickup?

Let the Terrell Suggs speculation begin: Ravens reunion? Patriots pickup?

Could the Patriots be seeing a familiar, old rival in the playoffs? Or could they be seeing him on their own defense for their playoff run?

The Arizona Cardinals released longtime Pats nemesis Terrell Suggs, 37, on Friday and he'll be on waivers until Monday. While the Patriots, at 10-3, are far down on the waiver list to claim him, the former Pro Bowl linebacker's old team, the Baltimore Ravens, with the NFL's best record at 12-2, are last in line, so a potential reunion appears to be a long shot.

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If he goes unclaimed, he'll be a free agent, calling to mind two years ago when the Pats snapped up pass rusher James Harrison, then 39, after Harrison passed through waivers following his release from the Steelers. 

While it's not the Patriots defense, but an offense that hasn't scored more than 20 points in a game since Halloween, that could use a boost this season, the idea of the guy who once refused to say Tom Brady's name (he'd call him "the pretty boy up north") surfacing in New England was too good to resist for a couple of ex-players:

'What it's all about': McCourty twins donate to local Pop Warner team in need ahead of national championship

'What it's all about': McCourty twins donate to local Pop Warner team in need ahead of national championship

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty get a number of requests throughout the course of a given year. They can't act on all of them, but one popped up on their shared Twitter account recently that caught their attention.

The Lawrence 10U Pop Warner team was on the verge of something special, but they needed a hand. They were one game away from having a chance to go to Orlando to compete for the Pop Warner national championship, but they were looking for help with funding.

"I looked into it and saw before the season they almost lost the team, I guess," Devin said. "They didn't have enough money. So they raised money for the team. If they lost [before going to Orlando], they were just going to put the money back into the organization. So we both sent checks to them figuring if they win, they go. If not, it'll help them going into next year. They won."

According to Bill Burt of The Eagle-Tribune, the McCourty's sent $5,000 apiece that would help the team cover expenses to go to Orlando.

"I was going back and forth with them on Twitter, and they offered to help," coach Ryan Mustapha told the Eagle-Tribune. "I was in shock . . . They loved our story, that we're a [urban] team in a struggling city. This really, really helps us going forward."

Devin McCourty, now in his 10th NFL season, has made a point to be involved in the community in a number of ways since his rookie season. Since Jason arrived to the team in the spring of 2018, he's been all-in on a number of local causes alongside his twin.

Their Tackle Sickle Cell campaign works to raise money, awareness and increase blood donations to fight against sickle cell disease. They helped head up the Social Justice Fund, established by Patriots players, which helped raise $450,000 in grants that went to five different organizations doing work in the areas of social justice and equality. The McCourtys were also very vocal in their support for the Student Opportunity Act, an overhaul of the state's funding formula for public education that was approved last month and promises to infuse $1.5 billion into school districts over the next seven years. 

For the McCourtys, their work away from the field has allowed them to become more familiar with a place like Lawrence.

"I thought it was cool. Just from all the stuff we've been doing, hearing about different areas of Massachusetts -- I've been here 10 years but I'm not from Massachusetts," Devin said. "Just hearing of different areas and knowing some of the struggles, the city of Lawrence. For some of these kids, this may be one of the best experiences of their childhood, to be able to go to Disney and compete for a national championship. And it's fitting because it's in Title Town . . .

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"To me, sometimes you hear things, and it just aligns with everything. I remember growing up and wanting to go to Disney and seeing that on TV. Soon as we saw it, we both screen-shotted it because that makes sense to us. I think that's what I've learned since I've been in the league. You gotta just do things that you're passionate about. A lot of requests that people give us are good things, but not everything is something you'd be passionate about."

Finding those passions and diving in head-first, Devin said, is "what it's all about."

"I think it's pretty sad if football only meant the games you played, the recognition you get from playing a sport," he said. "I think especially when you think about it growing up, I wasn't the best player growing up. I only had one offer coming out of high school. There were other guys in my area that were better and then obviously as you go, as you reach further out, kids get better. I think when you get blessed with an opportunity, it's for a reason. I think the reason is to make a difference off the field. 

"As professional athletes, it's sad, but we could say the same things that teachers, parents say to kids and they'll listen more because they'll think what we're saying means more. I think that's a responsibility that's very important. It's something you gotta take seriously. But I think it's also something you have to be proud of to have that opportunity to be a role model to kids who might have a similar background to you. Sometimes worse. You can be an inspiration, give them hope. 

"In a situation like this, you can bless them with funds. They don't care about the money, but they'll remember the memories and the fact that a professional football player took the time to invest in them. I hope means more to them as they get older and realize, 'I am important, I can accomplish things that I might not see people doing right outside my window, but I can accomplish things because there are people out there that care and want to invest in me and see me do good things.' "

The McCourtys played Pop Warner for the Valley Cottage Indians in Nyack, New York. They lost in the state championship as 12-year-olds, Devin told reporters earlier this season. "You don’t forget," he said at the time, "any time you play for a championship and you don’t win it." But the memory of playing on that team -- and competing against fellow future NFL players Ray Rice and Tyvon Branch -- remains a strong one. 

That's part of the reason why the McCourtys wanted to help the Lawrence 10U team. Devin, who tries to inspire Patriots defensive backs immediately before every game with a few words, even recorded a video to be played for the Lawrence players before their first game in Florida. 

"I basically told them to go have fun," he said. "That's what it's about. To have the opportunity to go out there and compete for a championship, but compete for a championship with guys that are your friends, guys you enjoy playing with. 

"So somewhat [like a Patriots pregame speech]. Just not yelling and screaming."

After beating Northbridge, New Jersey, and Proviso Township, Illinois, in the semifinal earlier this week, the Lawrence 10U team will compete for the national title against Palmetto, Florida, on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.