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Does the Caserio clause comply with league rules?

The Texans are still a good team coming off their AFC South title, but with their division rivals getting a lot better, Houston will have a difficult time keeping its crown.

The Texans reportedly backed away from the pursuit of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio because of contract language preventing Caserio from leaving New England. Some in league circles are now asking whether the Caserio clause complies with league rules.

The NFL’s anti-tampering policy outlines the circumstances in which a team may hire an executive from another team to become a “high-level employee,” as defined by the policy. Here’s the key passage from the policy: “If . . . the inquiring club is prepared to offer a position as a high-level employee . . . the employer club may not deny the employee the opportunity to discuss and accept such employment.”

The emphasis wasn’t added by me; it appears in the policy. And the argument would be, if push comes to shove, that this provision of the tampering policy supersedes the Caserio clause, which as applied would prevent him from leaving his non-high-level employee job with the Patriots (coach Bill Belichick obviously runs the show in New England) for an opportunity to become a “high-level employee” with another team.

As one league source has explained it to PFT, at least one other team has had a similar clause in the contract of a non-high-level employee. And at least one other team challenged that clause. And the NFL ultimately invalidated the clause.

So, basically, the Texans could have challenged the Caserio clause. It’s unclear whether the Texans know that. It’s possible that they don’t, given the current dearth of football business expertise in the organization, with owner Cal McNair still getting up to speed and meteorically rising Jack-of-All-Trades Easterby likely not as knowledgeable as he could/should be. It’s also possible that they know, but that they backed off given whatever evidence of actual tampering (that is, direct communications with Caserio by the Texans before G.M. Brian Gaine was fired) that the Patriots were able to produce in the aftermath of the filing of the now-abandoned tampering charge.

Regardless, Caserio arguably isn’t bound to the Patriots, notwithstanding the Caserio clause. If he isn’t a non-high-level employee (again, Belichick runs the show) and if another team offers Caserio a position that makes him a high-level employee, any agreement between Caserio and the Patriots to the contrary could be invalidated, if the other team challenges it.