Jack Easterby

Caserio Fallout: Pats, Texans, Kraft, Staff

The complex process that has taken shape since the Texans fired Brian Gaine still leaves the franchise without a GM, and, as of now at least, it looks like the Patriots will need to prepare for a front office shakeup in 2020.

Although the Texans are no longer pursuing top GM target Nick Caserio, and the Patriots have since dropped the tampering charges, the longtime Pats player personnel director is reportedly prepared to leave New England after his contract expires in 2020. The Texans are considering going without a GM this year, likely in hopes of landing Caserio next year, but they obviously run the risk of another potentially GM-needy team swooping in for the long-coveted executive.

Caserio may not be the only Pats exec on the market. Patriots college scouting director Monti Ossenfort‘s contract is believed to be up after this year as well, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. The Patriots made the unusual move to block Ossenfort from what would have been a major promotion last year, when the Texans requested to meet with both he and Caserio for the GM job that went to Gaine. Ossenfort has been with the Patriots for 15 years, having served in his current position for five.

The report about Caserio’s Patriots contract containing language that forbids him from meeting with another team, due to a raise the team gave him at some point, appears to be accurate. Not only does Caserio’s contract have this clause, but the Patriots offered a similar deal to members of their scouting department to try to keep the group intact, Breer adds. The Texans opted not to challenge this clause and thus take on Robert Kraft.

Another possible reason for the Patriots blocking Caserio from becoming the Texans’ GM: executive VP Jack Easterby‘s situation. Easterby left the Patriots to take a job with the Texans earlier this year and did so in part because Kraft was charged in the Florida prostitution sting, Breer reports. The ex-pastor and former Patriots character coach has become a key organizational voice early in his Houston tenure. Both he and Bill O’Brien have extensive Caserio ties.

The Texans have not conducted any GM interviews since the Caserio mess began, and Breer expects O’Brien to spend a year essentially running the team. Player personnel director Matt Bazirgan and college scouting director James Liipfert join Easterby as key Texans executives whose roles would stand to grow in a GM-less year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Texans, Houston Could Go Without GM In 2019

The Texans didn’t get their guy. After a brief battle with the Patriots over Nick Caserio which resulted in the Pats filing tampering charges, the Texans backed off.

Just about an hour ago, the Texans agreed to stop pursuing Caserio, with the Patriots agreeing to drop the tampering charges. Texans owner Cal McNair released a statement with the announcement, and now we have one from Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “The Houston Texans and New England Patriots have always had a great working relationship. We appreciate the way Cal McNair has handled this situation,” the brief statement posted to Twitter reads.

This incident was particularly awkward because of all the crossover between the two teams. Texans coach Bill O’Brien is a former Bill Belichick protege, and a lot of Houston’s coaching staff and front office has come from New England. With the ordeal over with and the Texans not getting their top choice, they’ll have to move on. We’ve already heard of their interest in a number of candidates, including former GMs Ray Farmer, Martin Mayhew, Reggie McKenzie, and Scott Pioli. But in the wake of this headache, the Texans are apparently considering not filling the vacancy at all.

“There now is a scenario under which the Texans will go this season without an official General Manager,” Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted. Schefter writes that “for less than a year, Bill O’Brien, Jack Easterby and the scouting dept could divvy up the duties.” That would be very unusual, but it sounds like a legit possibility at this point. Easterby came out of nowhere to suddenly become a powerful figure in Houston’s front office, and this could be an opportunity for him to seize even more control.

The Texans won the AFC South last year, but you wouldn’t be able to tell with all the recent dysfunction surrounding the team. Deshaun Watson is heading into a pivotal third season, and O’Brien could be on the hot seat if things don’t go well in 2019. It’ll be very interesting to see what they do next.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Texans, Patriots Exec Nick Caserio

The Patriots formally filed tampering charges against the Texans earlier Wednesday, accusing Houston of illegally pursuing director of player personnel Nick Caserio for its general manager vacancy. Here’s what we’ve learned about Caserio and the Texans since:

  • The league will look into evidence that Texans vice president of player development Jack Easterby spoke with Caserio about the GM role at the Patriots’ Super Bowl ring ceremony last Thursday, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (Twitter link). Easterby, who serves as something of a “character coach,” held a similar title in New England until 2019. The ex-pastor has already earned a large amount of responsibility in Houston, was reportedly an offseason target for several clubs before landing with the Texans, as Michael Lombardi noted on a recent episode of his GM Shuffle podcast.
  • Texans head coach Bill O’Brien says neither he nor Easterby has spoken with Caserio about the open general manager position, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “I would say that the answer to that is no relative to contact about anything having to do with the Houston Texans,” O’Brien said. “No.”
  • Houston is willing to give Caserio a contract which gives him full control of its 53-man roster, reports John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. However, the Texans and Patriots are likely arguing over whether Caserio is considered a “high level employee,” a designation that would mean New England isn’t required to allow Caserio to depart, even for a perceived promotion, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes.
  • The Patriots could eventually ask the Texans for draft pick compensation in exchange for Caserio, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (video link). Indeed, Bill Belichick‘s endgame could simply be pressuring Houston into trading a draft selection for Caserio, as Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com speculates (Twitter link).

Texans Notes: Gaine, Caserio, Clowney, Mathieu

Former Texans general manager Brian Gaine‘s firing shouldn’t be attributed to his inability to sign Jadeveon Clowney, writes Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. We heard last week that the former executive had made “zero” progress on an extension for the former number-one pick, and a lack of development may have played a role in his firing.

However, Breer said there wasn’t any organizational disagreement over the handling of Clowney. The team was interested in signing the linebacker on their terms, and they were content opting for the franchise tag. For what it’s worth, we learned earlier today that Clowney is not expected to attend the team’s mandatory minicamp. The three-time Pro Bowler has yet to sign the franchise tender as he continues to push for a multiyear pact.

So what was the main reason for Gaine’s firing? Breer points to a lack of “fit” and “alignment,” as the former general manager didn’t share the same vision as head coach Bill O’Brien. Furthermore, the reporter believes the team’s current pursuit of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio also played a role in the decision.

Let’s check out some more notes out of Houston, all via Breer…

  • Speaking of Caserio, his relationship with O’Brien and executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby could play a role in him leaving New England. There’s been a perception that Caserio wouldn’t leave the Patriots, but the reporter points out that the executive had been closing to leaving before (he considered taking the Dolphins’ gig in 2014). Breer wonders if the Texans could also look to Patriots college scouting director Monti Ossenfort or former Patriots executive (and current Falcons assistant GM) Scott Pioli for the role.
  • There also wasn’t an organizational disagreement over the handling of Tyrann Mathieu. The team recognized that the Pro Bowl safety had lofty monetary demands, and they never intended to go as far as the three-year, $42MM deal he received from the Chiefs this offseason. Meanwhile, the coaching staff has been happy with Gaine’s replacement for Mathieu, Tashaun Gipson.
  • Following Gaine’s signing of a five-year extension in 2018, the majority of his moves have actually been lauded by the front office and coaching staff. Breer points to the one-year deal for Mathieu, and he also notes the general manager’s ability to add productive rookies (receiver Keke Coutee and safety Justin Reid) in the 2018 draft despite not having a first- or second-rounder. While his inability to add a competent offensive line in front of Deshaun Watson certainly played a role in his firing, Breer opines that the forced trade of Duane Brown wasn’t the GM’s decision.
  • The Texans coaching staff has been happy with second-round offensive tackle Max Scharping and third-round tight end Kahale Warring. They’re also a “big fan” of first-rounder Tytus Howard. However, many pundits believe the Howard selection was a bit of a reach, and Breer wonders if O’Brien and Easterby’s Patriots’ philosophy clashed with Gaine’s eventual decision (as the two would have preferred trading back).

Fallout From Texans’ Brian Gaine Firing

While Brian Gaine had little chance to showcase his roster-building vision through the draft, the since-fired Texans GM was in charge of significant extension talks. A lack of development on the Jadeveon Clowney front may have factored into his firing. The 17-month GM made “zero” progress on a Clowney extension, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com tweets. Gaine also called the Chiefs about a Clowney deal before the draft, per Robinson, and continued calling teams after Clark was traded to Kansas City. Clowney has been extension-eligible since the start of 2017. After word of prospective 2018 talks emerged, not much transpired on that front last year. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick is attached to a $17.1MM franchise tag. Houston’s next GM will have to deal with this situation, along with likely another J.J. Watt contract. The five-time All-Pro’s $16.7MM-AAV deal now looks remarkably team-friendly, given where the market has ventured.

Here is the latest out of Houston:

  • While this firing stunned the NFL-following world, it surprised many key Texans staffers as well. Some personnel people did not know this was on tap until moments before the organization released its statement, Robinson tweets. The Texans wrapped up their OTAs this week but still have their minicamp next week. That will almost certainly be conducted without a general manager. Of the GMs hired in advance of the 2018 season, Gaine was the only one whose team made the playoffs. Both Brian Gutekunst and Dave Gettleman oversaw sub-.500 seasons.
  • Despite joining the Texans this offseason, Jack Easterby looks set to have influence on who the team’s next GM will be. The recently appointed executive vice president of team development (a position the Texans recently created) has become a key figure in Houston’s front office, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Hired after a six-year run as the Patriots’ character coach, Easterby has become a close confidant of Bill O’Brien‘s, per Breer. This seems pivotal considering O’Brien will now be coaching alongside a third GM. Easterby is also close friends with Patriots VP of player personnel Nick Caserio, per the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain. Caserio is back on the Texans’ radar.
  • Another potential name to watch: Scott Pioli. The longtime Falcons exec and former Chiefs GM recently stepped down from his Atlanta post, but an NFL personnel man floated him as a prospective candidate to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Pioli, of course, ascended as a Patriots front office bastion. His and O’Brien’s New England stays overlapped by two years, from 2007-08.

Extra Points: Kraft, Texans, Panthers

Lawyers for Patriots owner Robert Kraft are making a last-ditch effort to save their client. Kraft is refusing to plead guilty and admit he did anything wrong legally, and the government seems to be using the threat of releasing video footage to try and get him to cooperate. Kraft’s legal team has filed a motion to suppress the video evidence prosecutors have and get it thrown out, according to Travis Andersen and John R. Ellement of The Boston Globe. Kraft’s lawyers are apparently claiming that law enforcement officials used a “fake bomb threat” in order to get inside the spa and install hidden cameras.

It’ll be very interesting to see how the situation plays out legally, as it will likely effect what type of punishment Kraft faces from the league. Kraft released a statement apologizing to fans last month, but isn’t willing to admit guilt legally. It’s likely that he’s maneuvering to try and avoid being suspended by the NFL or facing other harsh punishment, and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to pull it off. Obviously, the public release of any video evidence would be highly embarrassing to Kraft and the Patriots, so it’s not shocking he’s fighting it vigorously.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Speaking of the Patriots, a former coach of theirs has found a new home. Jack Easterby, the former Team Development Director/Character Coach of the Patriots, has been hired by the Texans, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Easterby will get the title of Executive Vice President of Team Development in Houston. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is a former Patriots assistant coach and there’s a lot of crossover between the two organizations, so this move isn’t too surprising. Easterby had been with the Patriots for the past six seasons.
  • A lot of AAF players have been signing NFL contracts since the league folded. One player who could get some interest is running back Jhurell Pressley. But Pressley was hit with a setback as he seeks to get back to the NFL, as the league just suspended him two games for a “pending issue,” according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapsheet doesn’t specify what Pressley did, but says that the issue is why he hadn’t signed yet. Despite the suspension, Rapoport notes that Pressley has two workouts lined up for next week and could be signed soon now that his off-field matters have been resolved.
  • Earlier today, the Jets claimed receiver/returner Quadree Henderson off waivers from the Giants. New York apparently had competition for Henderson’s services, as the Panthers also put in a claim for the return specialist, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Carolina didn’t have a consistent returner last year and instead rotated a string of players, so their interest makes a lot of sense. Henderson was one of the best returners in the nation during his college days at Pittsburgh, and has a good shot to earn the job in New York as the Jets just lost All-Pro returner Andre Roberts in free agency.
  • The Packers cut inside linebacker Antonio Morrison last month, and now we have more clarity on why. A week before his release, Morrison was cited for interfering with a flight, according to Michael Cohen of The Athletic. Morrison, who was traded from the Colts to the Packers before last season, was removed from the flight for “exhibiting hostile behavior” toward a member of the crew, and fined by police. Morrison played in all 16 games for the Packers and started eight of them last season, so his sudden release was somewhat surprising. It’s unclear if the incident actually led to his release, but it’s notable. It was minor enough that he probably won’t face discipline from the league. We haven’t heard of any interest on the open market since his release. He received average marks from Pro Football Focus last year, grading out as their 74th-best linebacker.