Nick Caserio

NFL Rumors: How Texans executed Duke Johnson trade without a GM

NFL Rumors: How Texans executed Duke Johnson trade without a GM

The Houston Texans are operating without a general manager after failing to lure Nick Caserio from the New England Patriots.

But that didn't stop them from executing a pretty notable trade Thursday.

The Texans acquired running back Duke Johnson from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2020 draft pick. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport and the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, it's a fourth-round pick that will become a third-round pick if Johnson appears in 10 games for Houston.

So, if Houston doesn't have a GM, who pulled off this deal? Apparently head coach Bill O'Brien himself.

O'Brien doesn't have any traditional GM experience, but perhaps he took notes from his former boss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who also serves in a general manager role of sorts along with Caserio, who's listed as New England's director of player personnel.

What's unclear is if O'Brien will regret his first trade as an NFL GM. Houston needed a running back after releasing D'Onta Foreman, but the Browns had little use for Johnson, who was backing up Nick Chubb and likely would have been a third-stringer when Kareem Hunt returns from his suspension. Giving up a potential third-rounder for another team's backup seems like a high price to pay.

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In saying nothing, Nick Caserio said plenty at training camp presser

In saying nothing, Nick Caserio said plenty at training camp presser

FOXBORO –Nick Caserio dodged questions about the Houston Texans failed pursuit of him for their vacant GM job on Saturday morning.

And even though his answers pledged commitment, a willingness to serve and a sense of privilege to be in New England, the session did nothing to kill the belief that Caserio isn’t happy with the way things played out.

It was his, “On to Cincinnati…” moment.

Caserio, the team’s Director of Player Personnel, met every question about the Texans with an answer ripped straight from a Morning Motivations day planner.

Asked if he had any disappointment about being blocked from interviewing with the Texans (it’s now been twice in three years), Caserio responded, "I love being here, and right now we're focused on trying to get the team ready for this season. I'm happy to be here and I love what I do on a day-to-day basis."

Another Houston question: "I'd say I'm pretty honored and privileged to be in the position I'm in...I'm fortunate and honored to work with Bill on a day to day basis and a lot of other people in this building."

A question about wanting to someday have sole responsibility for building a team: "I'm not really focused on the hypotheticals. I'm focused on today. Honestly, I'm focused on trying to be the best version of myself each and every day."

If Caserio wanted to squish it, it would have been easy. A simple, “I’m certainly flattered by the Texans interest, lotta respect for the folks there, but this is where I want to be and it worked out for the best.”

Didn’t get that.

Caserio’s contract is up after the next draft. Even though he gets consistent verbal credit from Bill Belichick for being one of the league’s most valuable front-office executives, his title remains Director of Player Personnel. Not VP. Not GM.

And while Belichick likes to dismiss the importance of titles – even if they mattered plenty to him in the span from 1991 to 2000 when he was the one trying to maneuver and climb into positions of power. The fact that Caserio’s got such a humble title is, in part, what allows the perception to remain that Belichick runs all.

Meanwhile, the Patriots give Caserio enough credit and responsibility to make it easy for them to argue he is a “high level employee” without the title and, hence, not eligible to interview for a GM job.

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.“ 

It’s obvious the Texans thought they’d have a clean run at Caserio. They fired their GM Brian Gaine and immediately requested permission to interview Caserio. That just doesn’t happen in June.

The request also came soon after the Patriots “ring ceremony” at which former Patriots employee Jack Easterby was in attendance. Easterby, who’s now got a prominent role with the Texans, had ample time to gauge Caserio’s interest in joining Houston during that event.

So the Patriots and Belichick are well within their rights to be pissed off if they believe there was backroom dealing in trying to get Caserio to the Texans. He’s still under contract. It’s the eve of the season. It’s a shady thing to do. If it went down that way.

And Caserio – now twice blocked for the opportunity to even interview with Houston – has to be wondering whether all this loyalty and servitude is really worth it if he doesn’t have the autonomy to listen to the pitch for what would be a promotion.

It got messy. It got dropped. It’s been pocketed for the time being by all parties. But it sure doesn’t feel like it’s forgotten.

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Belichick calls Nick Caserio 'great asset' for Patriots; Texans' pursuit is 'water under the bridge'

Belichick calls Nick Caserio 'great asset' for Patriots; Texans' pursuit is 'water under the bridge'

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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