Texans' pursuit of Patriots' Nick Caserio for GM involves many layers

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Houston Texans have officially requested permission to interview New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio for their vacant general manager opening, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Losing Caserio would be a significant hit to the Patriots.

In a December 2014 radio interview, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said: "He contributes in a lot of different ways and I'm glad I have him. I need him." In 2017, Belichick highlighted Caserio's multifaceted responsibilities -- from coaching to scouting -- and said he couldn't imagine another person in the NFL who filled that type of "rare" role.

Given that background, it's hard to imagine the Patriots would grant permission to the Texans to interview Caserio. The club denied permission the last time the Texans requested it in 2018, although it did grant permission to the Miami Dolphins in 2014 when they requested to interview Caserio for a high-level, front-office position.

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported the Texans made the official request to interview Caserio on Friday night, and they are still waiting to hear from New England. That adds a layer of context to consider, while serving up a reminder that Belichick and the Patriots generally prefer to operate on their own time frame.

Here is my viewpoint of the multiple layers to this situation:

Caserio: The 43-year-old has a business background, and while he has been loyal to the Patriots and Belichick, it would behoove him to push for an interview to gain a better understanding of his financial value. While Belichick has annually touted Caserio's importance to the organization in media interviews, how much the Patriots are paying him is a stronger reflection of how he is valued.

For example, the New York Jets just hired Joe Douglas to be their general manager at a reported salary of $3 million per season. The Jets valued Douglas so much that they reportedly were willing to keep upping their offer until he accepted.

Is Caserio, who earned his degree in finance from John Carroll University and later his Master of Business Administration from Saginaw Valley State, in that range with the Patriots?

My sense is no. My sense is also that the Texans -- led by two of Caserio's friends in coach Bill O'Brien and vice president of team development Jack Easterby -- would have to be in that range to hire him away from New England.

It is understandable if Caserio, a married father of three who said at Super Bowl LIII that he is happy in New England working with people he likes, feels he owes it to his family to ensure he isn't selling them short financially. Also, one could understand Caserio's desire to explore the opportunity to see if it offered him a chance for upward mobility that isn't available to him in New England.

Patriots: The club's decision on whether to grant permission for Caserio to interview likely comes down to this question: Do they view the job as a promotion from what Caserio is doing in New England?

Technically, in title, it would be.

The Texans are hiring a general manager. Caserio's title in New England is director of player personnel.

But as Caserio himself said at Super Bowl LIII, and as Belichick has confirmed over the years, the Patriots don't put much stock in titles.

I could easily see Belichick not viewing the job as a promotion for Caserio, because O'Brien would be working with his third general manager (first Rick Smith, then Brian Gaine). The perception could be that O'Brien wields the power in the Texans organization and that Caserio would be making a lateral move.

So, in that case, why would Belichick let such a valuable employee go to a competitor?

One possible "easy" fix for the Patriots: Instead of denying permission for Caserio to interview and potentially creating a situation that sparks hard feelings, elevate him to general manager (despite Patriots personnel often saying titles don't matter) and increase his salary to current market levels for a newly hired GM like the Jets' Douglas.

Texans: When the Texans surprisingly fired Gaine after one season, they wisely made chairman and CEO Cal McNair the primary voice in publicly explaining the decision via a statement. With McNair out front, and not O'Brien and Easterby, it helps counter perception that O'Brien is calling the shots.

That could be important in the event the Patriots deny permission -- and the Texans consider challenging that decision in some form through the NFL.

As for why Caserio is coveted by the Texans, few around the NFL understand his value to building a team as well as O'Brien (who was with the Patriots assisting Belichick from 2007 to 2011) and Easterby (with the Pats from 2013 to 2018). Caserio attends almost every practice and is a bridge between the personnel staff and the coaching staff. He has shown an aptitude to project players from college, or other NFL teams, onto the Patriots' roster based on what coaches want and teach on a daily basis.

Those skills would be incredibly valuable to O'Brien as he enters his sixth season with the Texans, while also weakening a top rival in the AFC.

O'Brien is signed through 2022, and the idea of pairing with Caserio for the next four years -- and perhaps longer -- would create a scenario in which they could hit the ground running based on their prior work together.