In a Friday chat with reporters, Texans GM Nick Caserio declined to delve into the lawsuits against Deshaun Watson or the trade talk surrounding him. With respect to “the legal process,” Caserio explained that his focus is on the Texans’ offseason program and the upcoming draft.
“If you want to speculate, you should probably go buy Bitcoin,” Caserio said when asked about the QB’s future in Houston (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero).
We’re not entirely sure about cryptocurrency, but, right now, it doesn’t seem likely that the Texans and Watson will be moving forward together. Before the slew of suits, Watson had been demanding a trade for months. Now, it makes even less sense for the Texans to keep the embattled quarterback.
One of the civil suits against Texans QB Deshaun Watson has been dropped, but another lawsuit has been filed, bringing the plaintiff count back to 22. Meanwhile, five of Tony Buzbee’s clients have spoken to police, raising the possibility of criminal charges.
New Texans GM Nick Caserio is dug in against the prospect of trading Watson, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King. With the Texans not viewing free agency as a deadline to make a deal, a resolution does not appear imminent. With teams pursuing Watson potentially moving to other options in the near future, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the days leading up to the new league year.
Thus far, the Texans have not budged. Caserio and Cal McNair have issued multiple statements indicating they want Watson back under center in Houston next season. In holding Watson’s rights, the Texans certainly have leverage. Trading Watson later in the offseason may affect his assimilation with his next team and affect that team’s 2021 roster plan, though that might be a small factor here. And Watson could be fined more than $20MM this year if he is truly committed to never playing for the Texans again, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
By waiting until after the draft, the Texans would put themselves in danger of downgrading significantly at quarterback and doing so without collecting the kind of trade package that would help kickstart a rebuild. Thanks to their Laremy Tunsil/Kenny Stills trade, the Texans are without 2021 first- and second-round picks. And they may be set to let Will Fuller walk; prior to his trade request, Watson wanted the Texans to retain Fuller. While they would stand to recoup these and much more were they to unload Watson, he remains a Texan for the time being. Where will he be when the season starts?
Although the Texans might not even view the draft as a loose deadline to trade their three-time Pro Bowl passer, the Jets and Dolphins’ draft arsenals would be enticing. Both pick in the top three this year — the Jets at No. 2, the Dolphins third — and hold extra Round 1 picks (the Dolphins at No. 18, the Jets at 23). The Dolphins also have two second-round picks this year, while the Jets have two 2022 first-rounders from the Jamal Adams trade. Watson is believed to be a Robert Saleh fan, but subsequent reports have emerged indicating he would favor a deal to Miami over New York.
The Dolphins and Jets have QBs they could send to Houston, in Tua Tagovailoa and Sam Darnold, and these incumbent options would hold more appeal compared to the passers the Broncos and Panthers could send over. However, Watson has a no-trade clause, and both Carolina and Denver outflank the two AFC East squads at the skill positions.
It is not known how aggressive the 49ers will be, but they did discuss Stafford with the Lions. No offer emerged, however. They have made statements indicating they are fine with Jimmy Garoppolo returning, but Stafford discussions certainly point to San Francisco being interested in a Watson swap. The 49ers’ plan, as of late February, would be either making a Watson-level splash or trot out Garoppolo again. While the Broncos are on Watson’s list of approved destinations, the 49ers may well be ahead of them on said list.
Who are the key dark-horse teams to monitor here? The Raiders have been mentioned as a potential suitor. Of course, they have since been named one of Russell Wilson‘s four acceptable destinations. How much should Watson fetch in a trade? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
“Organizationally, we want to reiterate our commitment to Deshaun Watson,” said Caserio, pre-empting the slew of questions to come about Watson (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). “We have zero interest in trading the player..We have a great plan and vision for him. We look forward to spending more time with him.”
Caserio believes that “honest” and “forthright” communication can mend fences between the Texans and their star quarterback. Culley agreed as he backed up the GM with an even more confident declaration.
“He is a Houston Texan. I want him to be a Houston Texan,” said Culley (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Field Yates). “The reason I’m in this position today is because I know he’s going to be a Houston Texan.”
The Texans have faced scrutiny from several angles over the past two years. While Bill O’Brien bore the brunt of the criticism, the organization has continued to encounter issues since O’Brien’s dismissal.
CEO Cal McNair made another attempt to address concerns Friday. McNair said he has texted with Deshaun Watson since it became public the quarterback was unhappy. Watson expressed disappointment the Texans did not keep him fully in the loop regarding their decision to hire Nick Caserio as general manager, and McNair confirmed the franchise QB will have input regarding the next Texans head coach.
“That’s the intent. We want him in the loop and part of the process,” McNair said, via Fox 26’s Mark Berman. “Deshaun and I connected over texts since he’s returned from vacation, and I believe in dealing with the personnel issues directly with the players — but in conjunction with our general manager. Deshaun, it’s no secret that he’s disappointed in the communication during the [GM] hiring process.
Following Caserio’s lead, McNair said he has no desire to trade Watson. The four-year veteran has been connected to a potential trade request, despite signing a $39MM-per-year extension last summer, shortly after the reports of his dissatisfaction surfaced. Watson is believed to be far more upset about recent Texans events than he was when the team traded DeAndre Hopkins without informing him of the decision.
“He’s our quarterback,” McNair said. “I’ve liked Deshaun and watched him since he played at Clemson. I’ve believed in him and his leadership in (winning a) championship in college, and I think he can lead our team to championships here.
“We went to the second round of the playoffs and he was a good leader. This year, the flip side of the coin, our record wasn’t nearly as good, but he was still the same great leader. We believe in him. My mom loves him. He’s a great person. He’s a Texan.”
Watson has made it known he was a fan of Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who was initially left out of Houston’s HC interview requests. But the Texans have since requested a meeting with the third-year OC. McNair said this delay was related to Caserio taking over the search process. The Texans have been connected to several names, but hiring the longtime Patriots exec caused an understandable delay in their search process. Due to the Texans waiting until after the Chiefs’ bye week to submit a Bieniemy interview request, they will be unable to meet with him until after Kansas City’s season concludes.
“We were waiting on Nick’s list of coaching candidates,” McNair said. “Nick added him to the list. Other candidates had been recommended. Like all the candidates, they are Nick’s and my choices.”
This year’s NFL GM carousel figures to be more active than usual. The Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Texans, and Jaguars are all on the hunt for a new front office leader. And that’s only the official list. The real tally shows six clubs looking for a GM, since the Washington Football Team is expected to install a GM to work alongside head coach Ron Rivera. By mid-January, we could easily see a couple more jobs opening up — that’d put ~25% of the NFL on the market.
We’ll keep track of the GM candidates for each club here, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make general manager changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:
Updated 1-19-21 (7:02pm CT)
Morocco Brown, Colts college scouting director: Interviewed
Star quarterback Deshaun Watson is not happy that the Texans failed to truly involve him in their search for a GM despite being told that they would do so. That has led to speculation that Watson could request a trade from Houston, but in his introductory press conference, new general manager Nick Caserio tried to quash any such rumors.
“[Watson is] our quarterback,” Caserio said. “I can’t tell you how much respect and admiration I have for him as a player” (Twitter link via Field Yates of ESPN.com).
That’s all well and good, and a trade might be difficult to pull off anyway given that Watson just signed a massive extension that runs through the 2025 season (though there would likely be no shortage of teams willing to take on Watson’s contract and give up significant draft capital to land him, and the dead cap charge on Houston’s books would be a relatively modest $21.6MM). But as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes, Watson remains highly upset, and the team has been unable to get in touch with him. He is on vacation, but it doesn’t sound as if that has anything to do with the lack of communication. Wilson says that Watson is in no mood to hear from the team right now, and that it will be some time before he is ready to talk about his unhappiness.
At today’s presser, owner Cal McNair said the following: “I’ve come to understand [Watson] feels left out of the process. … [H]e and I had several visits and I understood his point of view before meeting with candidates. I’ve reached out to Deshaun and I look forward to him getting back to me when he returns from his vacation” (Twitter link via Mark Berman of Fox 26).
That statement jibes with yesterday’s report that McNair and Watson did indeed meet to discuss GM candidates, but the problem is that McNair did not even consider the names that Watson — who was reportedly representing a large group of his teammates — endorsed. Watson did not necessarily expect McNair to choose one of his candidates, and he does not have an issue with the Caserio hire in and of itself, but he feels as though he was given little more than lip service before McNair charged ahead with the exec he has been eyeing for a long time.
So one of Caserio’s primary orders of business will be to smooth things over with Watson — whenever Watson is ready — and he will also need to find a new head coach. Of course, Watson was also told that he would have input into the team’s HC search, and the fact that the Texans will not so much as interview Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy — who was said to be one of Watson’s top choices — is surely contributing to the quarterback’s displeasure.
Another nugget to come out of the press conference is that executive VP Jack Easterby will remain with the team. Some say that Easterby, who was brought in to improve the club’s culture, has only made it worse, and that he has an inordinate amount of sway over McNair (a notion buttressed by Easterby’s relationship with Caserio, which dates back to their days with the Patriots). However, as McNair has stated previously and reiterated today, Easterby — who had been serving as interim GM after Bill O’Brien‘s dismissal — will return to some of his earlier roles (Twitter link via Wilson). Caserio will have full control over the roster, the draft, and free agency.
As Wilson notes in a separate tweet, Caserio had plenty of positive things to say about Easterby. “Jack and I have had a special relationship,” Caserio said. “He’s helped me a lot personally. He’s someone I’ve always leaned on. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for [him].”
Despite Deshaun Watson‘s standout season, the Texans went 4-12. They do not have a first- or second-round draft pick this year and have a roster in need at many areas after Bill O’Brien‘s criticized GM tenure.
Watson was told he would have a say in the Texans’ GM and head coach searches. But owner Cal McNair did not discuss the Nick Caserio hire with the quarterback, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, who adds Watson is “extremely unhappy” with the Texans (Twitter link).
The Pro Bowl passer offered input on GM candidates, but the Texans did not consider any of his recommendations, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports. Watson is not upset about the Caserio hire but is disappointed in the team’s process, Rapoport tweets. It is not exactly unusual for an organization to hire a GM without consulting its quarterback, but Schefter notes Watson and McNair met on several occasions about this hire. Now, Caserio appears to have a key assignment on his hands as he starts his $6MM-per-year job.
“Man, it just starts with the energy and just the foundation of this program. There’s no real foundation in view. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows that. Got to have a guy that can come in and stand strong, stand 10 toes down and, (say), ‘Hey, this is the way it’s going to go, and this is the way we’re going to win,'” Watson said earlier this week, via NFL.com’s James Palmer (on Twitter).
“That’s what we need. It’s kind of just up in the air right now. That’s what I’m looking forward to, some disciplined responsibility and some good, fun energy that cares about winning championships and winning games but at the same time is coming in to work each and every day regardless.”
Some of this strife dates back to last year, when Watson expressed disappointment the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins without discussing the move with him. The organization making another big move without Watson’s input is believed to be a much bigger issue with him, Schefter adds. Watson has “quietly broached” the prospect of a trade request, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. Watson’s contract contains a no-trade clause, which would empower the quarterback to approve his destination — should this saga reach that stage.
Shortly after Patrick Mahomes‘ 10-year extension, Watson signed a more traditionally structured deal — a four-year, $156MM pact. He is signed through the 2025 season. It would certainly be shocking to see the Texans agree to trade their centerpiece player; such a move would certainly be financially prohibitive. The Texans guaranteed Watson nearly $75MM at signing. Watson agreed to the extension after the Hopkins trade and threw for a league-high 4,823 yards at an NFL-best 8.9 per attempt without the All-Pro wideout. The former Clemson national champion passer added a career-most 33 touchdown passes despite the core members of his post-Hopkins receiving corps being frequently unavailable.
Brandin Cooks has been traded three times during his seven-year career, and the Texans wideout is hoping he isn’t included in any more deals.
“[A]s far as a team thinking they could trade me for draft capital, I would caution them to think twice, because quite frankly, I’m not going to accept any more trades,” Cooks told ESPN’s Sarah Barshop. “And so, for me, if you want me off your team, you’ve just got to let me walk and choose my destination.”
While Cooks isn’t anxious to uproot his family, he also wants to stay in Houston so he can continue receiving passes from quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“I would love to continue to grow with Deshaun and have that commitment, however that looks,” Cooks said. “I don’t get into that. I’ll leave that to my agent and the team, but playing with a guy like that — who wouldn’t want to play with a quarterback like Deshaun?”
Cooks still has three years remaining on his contract, and he’ll have a manageable $12MM cap hit in 2021. However, he doesn’t have any guaranteed money left on the deal, adding a bit of uncertainty to his future. For what it’s worth, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter) that the organization has yet to talk contract with the wideout, but “it’s a conversation expected to take place in the offseason” once the team officially hires their GM and head coach.
Some more notes from around the NFL…
Speaking of, we learned earlier today that the Texans were set to hire Patriots executive NickCaserio as their new GM, and it apparently took a giant offer to get him to Houston. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that Houston gave Caserio a six-year contract that will make him one of the three-highest paid general managers in the NFL. Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports (via Twitter) that the deal is worth “at least” $6MM annually.
The Bills are scheduled to audition quarterback Chad Kelly, reports ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter). There’s an obvious connection here, as the 26-year-old is the nephew of legendary Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. Yates suggests that the audition could result in a “possible reserve/future” deal. The final pick of the 2017 draft, the younger Kelly has spent time with the Broncos and Colts during his career, getting into a single game.
After going unclaimed on waivers last week, former Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins and agent David Mulugheta mutually agreed to part ways. The former first-rounded has since found new representation, as ESPN’s Jenna Laine reports (via Twitter) that Haskins has hired Goal Line Football.
Following a 2020 season where the organization finished with only four wins, the Bengals have moved on from three assistants, according to ESPN’s Ben Baby (via Twitter). JimTurner, NickEason, and Gerald Chatman will not return in 2021. However, Baby notes that the Bengals defense showed flashes this past season, meaning Eason and Chatman could end up landing new gigs relatively quickly.
Nick Caserio interviewed for the Panthers and Texans GM jobs Tuesday, but he traveled to Houston for the Texans meeting. And the longtime Patriots executive will finally make the jump to a GM role.
The Texans are expected to hire Caserio as their next general manager, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). The organization has decided and is hiring the veteran personnel man, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets.
Caserio, of course, has an extensive history with the Texans. The team wanted to hire him in 2019, but his unusual Patriots contract prohibited such a move. However, he resurfaced on the Texans’ radar after Bill O’Brien‘s early-season firing. Caserio worked with current Texans executive VP Jack Easterby in New England and remains close with the former Patriots staffer. Easterby is believed to hold plenty of sway as to which direction the Texans go with this hire.
The Texans also interviewed the Steelers’ Omar Khan, Seahawks’ Trent Kirchner and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick for this job. They also met with in-house staffer Matt Bazirgan and were scheduled to meet with Bills staffer Malik Boyd and Ravens exec Scott Cohen. Korn Ferry, the firm the Texans used to spearhead their search, recommended Bazirgan, Cohen, Khan, Kirchner and Riddick but did not place Caserio on its finalist list, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Interestingly, Cal McNair told candidates they would be allowed to determine Easterby’s role, Garafolo adds (Twitter link). Given Easterby and Caserio’s past, it can be assumed Easterby will remain a key Texans figure.
Now 45, Caserio has been with the Patriots for 20 years. After Scott Pioli went to Kansas City in 2009, Caserio rose into a key role as Bill Belichick‘s right-hand man. He has been with the team for each of its six Super Bowl titles. The Patriots and Caserio reached another extension agreement in February 2020. Caserio’s departure will leave Dave Ziegler as Belichick’s top lieutenant, though the Broncos — who gave Ziegler his NFL start — have requested a GM interview. The Pats lost Monti Ossenfort to the Titans last year.
The two-decade New Englander will walk into an interesting situation. O’Brien’s brief GM tenure involved a few splashy and criticized trades, and one of them — the Laremy Tunsil deal — leaves the Texans without their first- or second-round picks. Miami holds Houston’s No. 3 overall choice. Revitalizing a roster that houses a franchise quarterback (Deshaun Watson) in need of a considerable supporting cast bump would be quite an accomplishment. But the Texans hiring an exec they have pursued for years represents a big step as well.
The Panthers have been busy with GM interviews Tuesday. Their meeting with Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio occurred today, but the franchise also met with three other candidates.
Carolina interviewed Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland, Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen and Titans player personnel director Monti Ossenfort, the team announced. These meetings followed Monday interviews with ex-Giants GM Jerry Reese and Browns exec Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The Panthers requested an interview with Colts exec Ed Dodds and are also interested in 49ers staffer Adam Peters.
While Ireland is best known for his GM run with the Dolphins (2008-13), he has been with the Saints since 2015. Also serving as New Orleans’ college scouting director, he has teamed with Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis to help restore the Saints to a perennial playoff entrant with successful drafts in the late 2010s. The Panthers are the only team to interview Ireland in this year’s extensive GM hiring period.
Ossenfort moved from New England to Nashville this year, leaving his longtime Patriots post for a central role with the Titans. He interviewed for the Browns GM opening earlier this year. Schoen has been a right-hand man for Brandon Beane and has played a key role in elevating the Bills from a team with a 17-year playoff drought to one that just secured the AFC’s No. 2 seed.
The Panthers are also interested in Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Chiefs director of player personnel Mike Borgonzi, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Paton has long been a target of GM-seeking teams. His most recent connection came when he backed out of the Browns’ 2020 GM search, one in which he was viewed as the favorite. The Chiefs have seen multiple Andy Reid-era staffers — Chris Ballard, Brett Veach — become GMs. Borgonzi predates Reid’s Kansas City arrival, having joined the Chiefs in 2009. He has risen from a scouting post to director of football operations over the past 10-plus years.