The Houston Texans’ pursuit of New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio had the potential to turn into a tense situation. It may have just gotten ugly.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Patriots have filed tampering charges against the Texans for trying to hire Caserio as their new general manager. Houston entered the market for a new GM upon firing Brian Gaine last week after his first season on the job.
At issue for the Patriots is whether or not the Texans followed proper protocol in requesting permission to interview Caserio. Did Houston already contact Caserio about the position before conducting a formal interview? That constitutes tampering, according to the Patriots.
The Texans wanted to interview Caserio last year, but were denied before moving on to hire Gaine. New England’s justification for blocking Caserio from interviewing with Houston was that the team’s season was still in progress during the playoffs. That obviously doesn’t apply this time around. Furthermore, under NFL rules, the Patriots can’t prevent Caserio from an opportunity to take a promotion.
The key line in the documents NFL Network’s Albert Breer posted: “If, however, the inquiring club is prepared to offer a position as a high-level employee, as defined above, the employer club may not deny the employee the opportunity to discuss and accept such employment.”
As defined by the NFL’s anti-tampering policy, a high-level employee is “an individual who has primary authority and responsibility for the organization, management, and day-to-day operations of the club and who reports directly to the controlling owner” or “an individual who is the primary football executive for the club.”
In New England, that guy is Bill Belichick. You don’t even have to understand the exact hierarchy of the front office or who holds what job title to know who’s in control. Belichick has the authority over personnel and responsibility for coordinating football activities that defines a high-level employee in the NFL’s view.
But as the Patriots see it, Caserio wields a great deal of authority in the front office. He “literally sees every player,” as Belichick put it before this year’s NFL Draft, scouting every NFL free agent and college prospect. Caserio also takes part in every coaching staff meeting, learning game plans and during games, he communicates with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. That sounds pretty high-level, does it not?
The Texans firing Gaine indicates that head coach Bill O’Brien won a front office power struggle. So he wants to bring in his own man as general manager and has ties with Caserio going back to their days together on the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff. Another Patriots connection in Houston is vice president of player development Jack Easterby, who was New England’s team development director and character coach until earlier this year.
Houston has also interviewed former NFL general managers Ray Farmer and Martin Mayhew for their vacancy, but it seems clear that Caserio is the top choice if the team is willing (or not willing, as the Patriots are charging) to request permission to interview him.
Would the Patriots create a disgruntled employee by denying Caserio such an opportunity? Possibly, but it might be worth the risk if they consider him that valuable.