BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL
barry chin/globe staff file
While you were loading up your car to head to the beach last Friday afternoon, the Patriots won their battle with the Texans over Nick Caserio.
The Texans backed off their pursuit of New England’s director of player personnel after being “made aware of certain terms in Nick’s contract with the Patriots,” the team said in a statement. In turn, the Patriots rescinded their tampering charge against the Texans, and Robert Kraft said, “We appreciate the way [Texans chairman] Cal McNair has handled the situation.”
So Caserio will be back this year, and the Patriots’ power structure remains intact. All’s well that ends well, right?
Not in this case.
The Patriots may have won this round, but keeping Caserio isn’t the real story here. The real story is this: Nick Caserio wants out of New England.
Specifically, he wants that Texans job, even though it was more of a lateral move than a true promotion. And to prevent Caserio from leaving, the Patriots had to enforce a clause in his contract and file tampering charges.
Caserio’s deal reportedly runs through the 2020 NFL Draft. To use football terms, the Patriots are making him play out his contract before reaching free agency.
The Patriots’ win keeps Bill Belichick’s right-hand man in Foxborough for another season but also exposes some tension inside the walls of Gillette Stadium that we thought had simmered since last year.
Belichick and Tom Brady seem to have smoothed things over. But there has been a surprising exodus of coaches and scouts over the last two years (especially this year), which raises questions about the working environment in Foxborough.
Five coaches left this offseason (not all for promotions). Jack Easterby left. Longtime scout Dujuan Daniels left. Greg Schiano left after a month.
And now we see that Caserio wants out, too. If Caserio wanted to stay in New England, he would have just turned down the Texans’ overtures. Instead, the Patriots had to lawyer up to enforce Caserio’s contract.
This marks the second straight year that the Patriots have had to block Caserio from interviewing with the Texans. Last year, they also blocked college scouting director Monti Ossenfort from interviewing for the same job. I have been told he wasn’t too happy about it.
The Patriots are well within their rights to force their employees to fulfill their contracts. And I wouldn’t blame them for being upset if Easterby, the Texans’ new vice president of team development, used the Patriots’ June 6 ring ceremony at Kraft’s house to recruit Caserio (former Texans GM Brian Gaine was fired the next day).
But it’s certainly a significant plot twist that Caserio wants out, especially when he seems to have a good thing going in Foxborough.
Caserio may not be the top dog in New England, but he is a close No. 2. He gets to negotiate contracts, pick a lot of the players, conduct workouts, help out in practice, talk on the headset during games, and do a million little things that the Patriots don’t tell us about. Caserio has been in New England from the beginning of the dynasty (2001), likely makes several million per year, has raised his family here, and goes to the Super Bowl every year.
And as I wrote last week, that Houston job isn’t perfect by any stretch. Certainly there’s an attractive setup with coach Bill O’Brien and Easterby, both former Patriots with whom Caserio has a good relationship. But it looks like a lateral move, as Caserio would still be working with a head coach who has most of the control over the roster. And the Texans brass may not be on the most solid of footing, what with O’Brien’s 1-3 playoff record in five seasons, and Gaine getting fired after 16 months.
If Caserio is concerned about job security, there is no better place than New England, where he has lasted 19 years.
Yet he still wants the Houston job.
Perhaps it’s simply about money, or the opportunity to grow. Whatever his motivation, this episode says that Caserio believes his time in Foxborough has run its course.
The Patriots, if they want, have a year to convince him to stay. He and his old college buddy Josh McDaniels are obvious candidates to replace Belichick, whenever he moves on (though no one I’ve talked to thinks that day is coming soon). Caserio may want out, but money always talks.
But every sign points to Caserio landing with the Texans next offseason.
When the Texans fired Gaine, it was done for one reason: to hire Caserio. They interviewed Martin Mayhew and Ray Farmer for the job — two minority candidates who could fulfill the NFL’s Rooney Rule — but since they lost out on Caserio, they have decided to move on without a general manager for the 2019 season. O’Brien, Easterby, and lead contract negotiator Chris Olsen will run the football side.
Nothing will stop the Texans from signing Caserio next spring, though, when he becomes a free agent. The only question may be whether the Patriots will enforce Caserio’s contract to the bitter end. Do they really want Caserio running their draft next spring, knowing that he is going to bolt for Houston as soon as the final pick is announced?
I don’t expect this episode to affect Caserio’s professionalism this year, as I don’t believe he would lay down on the job or tank or anything to that effect.
But it is interesting, to say the least, to see that Caserio wants out of New England. And despite the appearance of harmony and joy in Foxborough following a sixth Super Bowl championship, perhaps things aren’t as rosy and perfect as they appear.
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