Nick Caserio

Patriots Notes: Kraft, Mayo, Caserio

Following a 24-year partnership, the Patriots and Bill Belichick mutually decided to part ways today. While the divorce didn’t necessarily come as a surprise, the organization’s handling of the separation raised some eyebrows.

[RELATED: Patriots, Bill Belichick To Part Ways]

Leading up to today’s announcement, there were rumblings that a number of teams would have interest in adding Belichick. Considering the iconic head coach was still under contract for another year, there was some speculation that the Patriots may try to squeeze compensation out of any suitors. However, much like how Robert Kraft handled the Tom Brady divorce, the owner thought his head coach deserved to pursue whatever opportunity he wanted.

“I didn’t think it was right for Tom Brady, who gave us 20 years, and I don’t think it’s right for Bill,” Kraft told reporters (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero).

There was a recent sentiment from some within the organization that Belichick hadn’t “lost his fastball” from a coaching perspective. Instead, many were questioning Belichick’s personnel decisions, whether it was regarding the draft, free agency, and even some of his coaching hires. That led some to wonder if Belichick would willingly cede personnel authority in order to stick around New England as head coach.

However, while Kraft acknowledged that he thought of such an arrangement, he never believed it would work. The owner told reporters that such a move would “create confusion with accountability” (as Jeff Howe of The Athletic passes along).

Belichick’s exit creates a vacancy on both the sideline and the front office. A number of Patriots-related coaches have been connected to the HC gig; former players Jerod Mayo and Mike Vrabel are both considered major contenders to take over. In fact, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport passes along that Mayo’s recent deal with the organization includes a “firm, contractual succession plan,” details that were passed along to the NFL. While the Patriots have no obligation to name Mayo as their next head coach, Rapoport notes that the organization doesn’t have to go through the hiring process if Mayo is indeed the choice.

Naturally, the same logic is being used with the front office, but one familiar face doesn’t have interest in a reunion. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe recently passed along that the Patriots could be eyeing former director of player personnel Nick Caserio to lead their front office. However, the current Texans general manager denied the rumors during a recent appearance on Sports Radio 610.

“Whoever these reporters are that make these ridiculous statements, maybe you want to talk to me about it first before putting information out there that has zero basis,” Caserio said during the appearance (via Tyler Milner of Sports Radio 610).

Exec Rumors: Caserio, Peters, Aponte

With Bill Belichick perhaps coaching his last game for the Patriots today, the club could have head coach and general manager vacancies in relatively short order (Belichick, of course, has operated as New England’s de facto GM throughout his tenure). Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post hears that Texans GM Nick Caserio, whose 20-year stint in the Pats’ personnel department earned him the Houston gig, would be open to a return to Foxborough, but Dianna Russini of The Athletic (subscription required) says Caserio does not want to leave the Texans.

Russini points out that Caserio, who squeezed an excellent return from the Browns in the 2022 Deshaun Watson trade and who appears to have hit a home run in drafting quarterback C.J. Stroud and hiring head coach DeMeco Ryans last year, has laid the groundwork for sustained success in Houston and wants to see it through. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine Caserio leaving a young and talented HC-QB pairing for the uncertainty that would await him in New England.

Here are a few more rumors relating to league executives:

  • 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters is once again expected to be a hot name in the upcoming hiring cycle, as Jeremy Fowler of writes in a subscribers-only piece. Peters turned down GM interview requests from the Cardinals and Titans last year, and it has been rumored for some time that he is the heir apparent to current San Francisco GM John Lynch. Per Fowler, it remains possible that the Niners will simply promote Peters to general manager now that Lynch has been given the additional title of president of football operations.
  • Like Peters, Falcons assistant GM Kyle Smith has been viewed as a future general manager, and as Albert Breer of notes, Atlanta GM Terry Fontenot promoted Smith to his current role this year partly to dissuade rival clubs from trying to poach him (a team can block an assistant GM from interviewing for anything other than a GM job). While the Falcons have yet to find a long-term answer at quarterback since Fontenot and Smith joined the team, they have injected a great deal of talent into the rest of the roster, and Smith appears poised to generate serious GM interest.
  • We recently heard that the Commanders may wish to add a president of football operations to oversee both their head coach and general manager, and Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post reports that Dawn Aponte‘s name has come up in connection with that role. Aponte, who presently works as the league’s chief administrator of football operations, was mentioned as a potential candidate for the Giants’ GM job in 2022, though she was not interviewed for that post. Aponte has, however, served in high-ranking executive positions for the Jets, Browns, and Dolphins.
  • In another subscribers-only piece, Fowler and Dan Graziano of compiled a list of other top candidates for GM jobs, a list that includes Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham, Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz, and Browns assistant GM Catherine Raiche. Cunningham was offered the Cardinals’ GM job last year but turned it down, while Hortiz and Raiche have both taken GM interviews in recent years.

Possible Futures For HC Bill Belichick, Patriots

While speculation has run amok on multiple occasions this season that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could be on the hot seat in New England, he went off and silently signed a “lucrative, multiyear” extension in the offseason. According to a recent report from Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, a source has disclosed that they believe the new contract only runs through the 2024 season. If the Patriots truly have plans to move on from their longtime head coach, what would that look like? And what would that mean for Belichick or the Patriots?

Even if the extension keeps Belichick for only one additional year, Volin isn’t convinced that he makes it that long, believing it would take “a miracle turnaround” for this not to be his last season in New England, even claiming there’s a chance Belichick doesn’t make it through the rest of the season. With a bye week coming up in two weeks, the team’s trip to Germany could be crucial. While Volin is only voicing an opinion, the writer for the Globe has been on the Patriots beat for ten years and should have a decent read on the team’s pulse.

He doesn’t believe, however, that recent reports of Washington desiring a trade for Belichick are believable. While the idea of reeling in Belichick and allowing him to recreate his former staff with Matt Patricia, Josh McDaniels, and Joe Judge seems like an interesting idea on its surface, one the Patriots would rejoice over having a draft pick in return for, the Commanders don’t have the spare cash to bring on the NFL’s highest-paid coach. Also, with a franchise who seems intent on pumping out old blood in a mass transfusion, bringing in one of the NFL’s second-oldest head coaches doesn’t quite fit the bill. If current head coach Ron Rivera is on the way out, as many have prophesized, a younger replacement seems far more likely.

Now, if the Patriots do cut ties with the 71-year-old skipper, who takes over as the first new head coach of the Patriots in 24 years? Team owner Robert Kraft (and his son, team president Jonathan Kraft) have repeatedly stuck with names already popular in New England. According to Volin’s sources, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel would be a “home run” hire to replace Belichick.

Vrabel, a former player who spent eight years playing linebacker for the Patriots and helping them win three Super Bowls, moved quickly through the coaching ranks, moving on from a position coaching job at Ohio State to work his way up to defensive coordinator of the Texans. After one year at the helm of Houston’s defense, Vrabel was hired in Tennessee where he has amassed a 51-39 regular season record and gone 2-3 in the playoffs. He received a new contract after the 2021 season, but there’ve been rumors that Vrabel and new general manager Ran Carthon don’t quite see eye to eye. So, perhaps, New England could entice Vrabel towards a reunion.

Since Belichick also serves as de facto GM, a new GM would become a necessity, as well. The same sources that pointed to Vrabel labelled Texans GM Nick Caserio as another “home run” hire. A longtime member of the Patriots’ player personnel department, Caserio won his newest position after 13 years as director of player personnel in New England. After two rough years at the helm in Houston, Caserio may have looked expendable to start the year, but rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud have injected new blood and excitement into the Texans franchise. Caserio would likely be a tough get at this point, unless there’s some hidden discontent on behalf of Ryans, who may be looked to as the pilot of this season’s potential turnaround.

Volin didn’t stop there, even speculating on future potential coordinators for this “home run” staff. Many don’t view current offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien as the team’s play caller of the future. In fact, not many believe that was the intent when he was brought in in the first place, assuming he would use the role as “a springboard to a head coaching opportunity.” With quarterback Mac Jones struggling and the offense scoring the second-least points in the NFL, he certainly doesn’t appear to be on the short-list to replace Belichick or even retain his play calling duties for much longer.

Instead, a reunion with McDaniels, the recently fired former head coach of the Raiders, seems within the realm of possibility. McDaniels probably isn’t in a hurry to take a new job, as he’s getting paid by Las Vegas for the next four years, but he may feel the need to return to the NFL by at least next season, in order to ensure his name stays fresh in NFL circles. A return to the familiar grounds of New England seems reasonable.

On defense, inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is thought to be a big up and coming coach in New England, after refusing a head coaching interview in order to take a big payday with the Patriots. Mayo may not be ready to take over as head coach in New England just yet, but he may be able to earn defensive coordinator duties in a hypothetical Vrabel staff. Regardless, the Kraft’s love him and were willing to pay a lot of money in order to keep him from leaving for greener pastures.

While all of this is purely hypothetical, the heat on Belichick seems very real. With the Patriots facing a possible 2-8 start if they can’t pull out a win in Frankfurt, the end of the Belichick-era may soon be at hand. There are lots of things to figure out between now and the prophesies above, but if things continue going from bad to worse, we may see it all play out in the months to come.

Texans To Retain LB Cory Littleton, RB Mike Boone

AUGUST 30: While Kirksey has a deal lined up to join the Bills’ taxi squad, the same is not true of Littleton. The latter is remaining in Houston on the team’s 53-man roster, Wilson reports. Littleton has re-signed with the same terms he originally agreed to; that will allow him to max out his 2023 earnings at $2.7MM.

The same release-and-re-sign move has been employed with running back Mike Boone, Wilson adds. Boone will carry on under the terms of the two-year, $3.1MM pact he signed this offseason.

AUGUST 29: Multiple veteran linebackers are receiving their walking papers from the Texans this week. Following the Christian Kirksey cut, the Texans are releasing Cory Littleton, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 tweets.

Littleton joined Denzel Perryman in signing with the team in March. Even without Kirksey, the Texans’ roster includes a number of notable linebackers. Christian Harris, a 2022 third-round pick, joins veterans Blake Cashman and Neville Hewitt. The latter, a special-teamer, re-signed this offseason. The team also drafted Alabama’s Henry To’oTo’o in the fifth round.

Big on midlevel veteran additions and short-term contracts under GM Nick Caserio, Houston added Littleton on a one-year, $2.2MM deal. The former Rams, Raiders and Panthers defender received $600K guaranteed, representing the dead money set to come from this release. The Texans are retooling on defense once again, returning to a 4-3 scheme under HC DeMeco Ryans. This has led to some offseason adjustments.

Perryman and Cashman are listed as starters in Houston, Wilson adds. Littleton, 29, has been unable to stick around with a team since his productive Rams tenure ended. Still in their all-in mode when Littleton’s free agency year transpired, the Rams let the starting linebacker walk in 2019. While the Raiders gave Littleton a nice contract (three years, $35.25MM), they restructured it a few times and shed it from their payroll — via a post-June 1 cut — last year. Littleton caught on with the Panthers but only started seven of the 15 games he played last season.

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured GMs

The latest NFL general manager hiring cycle only produced two changes, but each took over for an executive who appeared in good standing at this point last year.

Steve Keim had held his Cardinals GM post since January 2013, and the Cardinals gave both he and Kliff Kingsbury extensions — deals that ran through 2027 — in March of last year. Arizona has since rebooted, moving on from both Keim and Kingsbury. Keim took a leave of absence late last season, and the Cardinals replaced him with ex-Titans exec Monti Ossenfort.

[RELATED: The NFL’s Longest-Tenured Head Coaches]

As the Cardinals poached one of the Titans’ top front office lieutenants, Tennessee went with an NFC West staffer to replace Jon Robinson. The move to add 49ers FO bastion Ran Carthon also came less than a year after the Titans reached extension agreements with both Robinson and HC Mike Vrabel. But controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk canned Robinson — in place as GM since January 2016 — before last season ended. Adams Strunk cited player unavailability and roster quality among the reasons she chose to move on despite having extended Robinson through the 2027 draft months earlier. The Titans are now pairing Vrabel and Carthon.

The Bills reached an extension agreement with GM Brandon Beane two weeks ago. Hired shortly after the team gave Sean McDermott the HC keys, Beane has helped the Bills to five playoff berths in six seasons. Beane’s deal keeps him signed through 2027. Chargers GM Tom Telesco has hit the 10-year mark leading that front office, while this year also marks the 10th offseason of Buccaneers honcho Jason Licht‘s tenure running the NFC South team. Although Jim Irsay fired Frank Reich and later admitted he reluctantly extended his former HC in 2021, the increasingly active Colts owner has expressed confidence in Chris Ballard.

Here is how the NFL’s GM landscape looks going into the 2023 season:

  1. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys): April 18, 1989[1]
  2. Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals): August 5, 1991[2]
  3. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000[3]
  4. Mickey Loomis (New Orleans Saints): May 14, 2002
  5. John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks): January 19, 2010; signed extension in 2021
  6. Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles): January 29, 2010; signed extension in 2022
  7. Les Snead (Los Angeles Rams): February 10, 2012; signed extension in 2022
  8. Tom Telesco (Los Angeles Chargers): January 9, 2013; signed extension in 2018
  9. Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 21, 2014; signed extension in 2021
  10. Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins): January 4, 2016[4]
  11. John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers): January 29, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  12. Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts): January 30, 2017; signed extension in 2021
  13. Brandon Beane (Buffalo Bills): May 9, 2017; signed extension in 2023
  14. Brett Veach (Kansas City Chiefs): July 11, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  15. Brian Gutekunst (Green Bay Packers): January 7, 2018; agreed to extension in 2022
  16. Eric DeCosta (Baltimore Ravens): January 7, 2019
  17. Joe Douglas (New York Jets): June 7, 2019
  18. Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns): January 27, 2020
  19. Nick Caserio (Houston Texans): January 5, 2021
  20. George Paton (Denver Broncos): January 13, 2021
  21. Scott Fitterer (Carolina Panthers): January 14, 2021
  22. Brad Holmes (Detroit Lions): January 14, 2021
  23. Terry Fontenot (Atlanta Falcons): January 19, 2021
  24. Trent Baalke (Jacksonville Jaguars): January 21, 2021
  25. Martin Mayhew (Washington Commanders): January 22, 2021
  26. Joe Schoen (New York Giants): January 21, 2022
  27. Ryan Poles (Chicago Bears): January 25, 2022
  28. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (Minnesota Vikings): January 26, 2022
  29. Dave Ziegler (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  30. Omar Khan (Pittsburgh Steelers): May 24, 2022
  31. Monti Ossenfort (Arizona Cardinals): January 16, 2023
  32. Ran Carthon (Tennessee Titans): January 17, 2023


  1. Jones has been the Cowboys’ de facto general manager since former GM Tex Schramm resigned in April 1989.
  2. Brown has been the Bengals’ de facto GM since taking over as the team’s owner in August 1991.
  3. Belichick has been the Patriots’ de facto GM since shortly after being hired as the team’s head coach in January 2000.
  4. Although Grier was hired in 2016, he became the Dolphins’ top football exec on Dec. 31, 2018

Staff Updates: Texans, Falcons, Colts, Jags

The Texans announced a slew of adjustments to their coaching and front office staffs for the 2023 season under new head coach DeMeco Ryans, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2. The moves included confirmed new hires, promotions, and title additions throughout the staff.

On the coaching staff, Danny Barrett, who was confirmed to be sticking around as running backs coach as a holdover from last year’s staff back in February, has reportedly added the mantle of assistant head coach to his title. He’s been with the team for the past five years, providing Ryans with crucial insight into team dynamics. Wilson also announced that William Burnham has been hired as assistant special teams coordinator, replacing Sean Baker in the role. This is also news for Baker, as we were previously informed that he would be retained in the role for 2023 when the team finalized the coaching staff back in February.

In the personnel office, James Liipfert was promoted to executive director of player personnel after being promoted to assistant director of personnel/director of college scouting a year ago. John Ritcher joined Mozique McCurtis as a national scout for the team in 2019. Now the two are both moving up together into co-college scouting director jobs. Brad Matthews, a Midwest Area scout since 2018, will move into one of the open national scout roles. The team officially announced that Chris Blanco will rejoin the staff after two years in Minnesota. After reaching the role of director of pro personnel in his two years with the Vikings, Blanco will serve as assistant director of player personnel in Houston. Lastly in personnel, general manager Nick Caserio will add the title of executive vice president to his role.

Finally, in operations, Joe Vernon was officially announced as special advisor to football ops, leaving his job as an attorney at Miller Canfield in Michigan. The team also added Jeremy Stabile, who announced on Twitter that he would be leaving the Dolphins to accept the role of football data analyst in Houston.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the league, most of them coincidentally coming out of the AFC South, as well:

  • The only move not out of the AFC South, the Falcons hired Brian Zeches as their new player personnel coordinator. Zeches in the son of Jim Zeches, who was a scout in the NFL for 16 seasons. The younger Zeches has spent seven years in Washington and has experience with the Chiefs and the Senior Bowl, as well. He also has college experience, coaching at UTEP, Weber State, and New Mexico.
  • The Colts announced a number of promotions to their front office, as well, recently. In operations, Melainey Lowe has been named director of football operations after serving as a football operations intern in 2021 and the football operations assistant in 2022. In analytics, Nick Bayh was named strategic football analyst. He was previously a military intelligence officer for the US Army Reserve before serving as a personnel assistant in his first year with the Colts last year. In personnel, former scouting assistant Andrew Hoyle has been promoted to player personnel scout. He started with the team as an equipment intern in 2018 before moving his way through the ranks of the personnel department.
  • Lastly, the Jaguars made a couple of moves in their analytics department, according to ESPN’s Seth Walder. Previously under the title of director of coaching analytics, Ryan Paganetti‘s title has been changed to director of football analytics. Additionally, the team recently hired Avery Horvath as a data scientist.

AFC South Rumors: Titans, Anderson, Jags

While we are more than two months away from offensive linemen working in pads, the Titans are in the process of determining first-rounder Peter Skoronski‘s position. They are cross-training the No. 11 overall pick at tackle and guard. Skoronski only played tackle at Northwestern, but plenty of pre-draft buzz pointed to a future at guard in the NFL. Arm measurements affected Skoronski’s pre-draft perception, and the Tennesseean’s Nick Suss notes the Titans were alternating possessions of the rookie at tackle and guard during their rookie minicamp.

In Nicholas Petit-Frere and free agent signing Andre Dillard, the team looks to have its two starting tackles in place. The Titans gave the ex-Eagles first-rounder a three-year, $29MM deal, despite Dillard having never commandeered an Eagles starting job, that includes $10MM fully guaranteed. For 2023, at least, this setup points to Skoronski at guard alongside Daniel Brunskill and Aaron Brewer on a new-look Titans line.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Veering back toward C.J. Stroud after weeks of pre-draft reports indicated they were drifting in another direction, the Texans ended up with their coveted edge rusher (Will Anderson Jr.) via a monster trade-up with the Cardinals as well. They became the first team to make two top-three picks in a draft since Washington in 2000. The Texans held pre-draft meetings about how to obtain a quarterback and a pass rusher with their Nos. 2 and 12 picks, Albert Breer of notes. Texans ownership was believed to be more involved this year, though Cal McNair denied influencing GM Nick Caserio to select a quarterback. The trade cost Houston what may well be a top-five pick in 2024, giving Cardinals fans a reason to follow this Texans season, so the AFC South team will bank on Anderson having an All-Pro future.
  • Regarding Anderson, DeMeco Ryans said his top pass rusher will operate primarily out of a three-point stance on the edge. The Texans have used a 3-4 base defense for years, dating back to J.J. Watt‘s heyday, but Ryans played in a 4-3 look in Houston and used it as his base alignment in San Francisco. Anderson worked primarily as a linebacker at Alabama. “It’s not a huge position change for Will,” Ryans said, via’s Deepi Sidhu. “Will will be an edge defender for us, and that’s what he did at Alabama. Mostly at Alabama he was standing up. We’ll have him down in a three-point stance.” As sub-packages now rule the NFL, the line between a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 defensive end has blurred over the past several years, making this a standard switch for the prized edge prospect.
  • Ryan Cowden finished last season as the Titans‘ interim general manager. The veteran executive is no longer listed on the team’s website as part of the front office (h/t Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky). This marks a quiet exit for Cowden, who worked alongside Mike Vrabel atop the Titans’ decision-making structure after GM Jon Robinson‘s firing. Ran Carthon has since taken over in Tennessee. Cowden had been with the Titans since Robinson’s 2016 hire. Prior to that, he spent 16 years in the Panthers’ scouting department. Having interviewed for several GM jobs over the past few years — including the Tennessee vacancy — Cowden should have an opportunity to catch on elsewhere soon.
  • The Texans have bumped Tom Hayden to their college scouting director post, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 notes. Previously the team’s college scouting coordinator, Hayden remains with the team despite arriving during the short-lived Brian Gaine GM tenure.
  • Jaguars cornerback Chris Claybrooks was hit with two misdemeanor charges — domestic assault with bodily injury and vandalism under $1,000 — last month stemming from an incident in Nashville. Authorities have dropped each charge due a settlement being reached, Michael DiRocco of notes. Claybrooks allegedly grabbed his ex-girlfriend’s arm and threw her cellphone to the ground.

Texans WR John Metchie Participating In Offseason Program

The draft was the source of many significant developments for the Texans, but another one also took place last week. Receiver John Metchie III made his long-awaited return to the practice field after battling both injury and health concerns in 2022.

Metchie missed his entire rookie campaign after being diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia in July, something which happened amidst his recovery from a torn ACL in his final college game. That understandably led to questions about his playing future, but Metchie has continued to make progress for several months. He is now set to take part in spring workouts in preparation of his NFL debut.

The 22-year-old Canadian put himself on the draft radar with a pair of productive seasons at Alabama in 2020 and ’21. Across that span, he totaled 151 catches, 2,058 yards and 14 touchdowns, helping the Crimson Tide to the national title game in his junior campaign; it was during that contest that he tore his ACL. The injury didn’t cause much a slide down the draft board, though, as Metchie was selected in the second round by the Texans.

“Nobody’s worked harder over the last however many months to get himself to this point,” general manager Nick Caserio said, via ESPN’s DJ Bien-Aime“So I wouldn’t say anybody is surprised that he’s arrived at this point… There are a lot of people that deserve a lot of credit that helped get to this point, starting with John. I’ll say it’s kind of inspiring to see somebody see that.”

Houston’s OTAs begin on May 22, and they will represent another signficant milestone in Metchie’s ongoing return to full health. He will look to compete for a place in the WR pecking order on a team which has made a few additions at the position in free agency (including Robert Woods) and selected a pair of rookies (third-rounder Nathaniel Dell and sixth-rounder Xavier Hutchinson) in the draft. The Texans’ offense will look different given those new pieces in the receiving corps, along with No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud at quarterback. Metchie’s ability to regain his college form with the team’s new signal-caller could go a long way in determining their individual and collective success in the short- and long-term future, provided his recovery continues as planned.

“He’s making progress,” Caserio added. “He’s in a good spot. You could have been any setbacks, but you know, [there’s] still a long road ahead of us. We had played a lot of football, but we’re all certainly cautiously optimistic about where he’s at.”

Latest On Cards’ Trades With Texans, Titans

A key party in a few teams’ early-round draft machinations, the Cardinals played a particularly important role in what could be long-term AFC South roster construction. They made deals with both the Texans and Titans, equipping each with potential 2020s pillars.

Both teams discussed prospective trades with the Cardinals before the draft. The Titans did not have to give up what it would have cost to move from No. 11 to No. 3 — a climb Tennessee was continually connected to attempting — but they had C.J. Stroud in mind. The new Texans quarterback was the Titans’ target at No. 3, with Albert Breer of confirming the team dropped out of trade talks after Houston took the Ohio State passer at 2.

The Titans were viewed as high on Stroud, and with the Texans believed to be planning to take a momentous risk — tabling their quarterback need yet again to select an edge rusher — it looked like Tennessee could have a clear path to trading up for its preferred passer. But Nick Caserio confirmed (via NBC Sports’ Peter King) his team had decided on Stroud at No. 2. That decision ran counter to just about every Texans-centric report leading up to the draft. Though, reports of Houston’s defensive end intent were not entirely inaccurate, given how the team proceeded at No. 3.

Although Caserio taking Stroud at No. 2 removed a buyer for 3 in the Titans, the Texans still traded a monster haul to land the Cardinals’ No. 3 choice. Houston gave up No. 33, along with first- and third-round picks in 2024. The Texans held two 2024 firsts, thanks to the historic Deshaun Watson package, and Houston’s first — not Cleveland’s — now belongs to Arizona. The Texans’ lengthy rebuild process has involved top-three draft real estate in each of the past three drafts, running a risk the team gave a prime draft asset for a non-quarterback in Will Anderson Jr. Two of the three Browns first-rounders acquired in the Watson trade ended up going toward Anderson.

Caserio and former Patriots coworker Monti Ossenfort had engaged in pre-draft talks about a trade involving the Nos. 3 and 12 picks, Breer adds, and King confirms the Cards and Texans agreed to the swap with “close to a minute left” on the clock.

It helped that I had a personal relationship with Nick Caserio in Houston,” Ossenfort said during an appearance on the Dave Pasch Podcast (via “… There was some back and forth there and the clock’s going, the clock’s going, and I think it was around two-and-a-half minutes where we have a couple of [different] deals up written up on the board [with] a couple of teams and it’s ‘OK, Nick, I think we’re at a spot where we are close here. It’s this and this for this, this and this. Are you in?’ ‘Yeah, I’m in.’ And it’s ‘OK, great, call it in.'”

Ossenfort had planned on trading back up and called multiple teams in order to secure Paris Johnson draft real estate. After talks with fellow former coworker Dave Ziegler did not produce a deal with the Raiders, Ossenfort found a taker in the Lions, allowing them to avoid taking Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 6.

The Cardinals and Titans revisited their talks Friday, and GM Ran Carthon pivoted to the freefalling Will Levis. The Titans had discussed a deal to move back into Round 1, with Levis as the target, with Breer adding they discussed the move with the Bills — at No. 27 — late Thursday night. The Titans were one of many teams trying to move back into the first round, and teams also made offers to the Steelers for 32. The Titans may well have been one of those to send the Steelers a proposal for 32, but they ended up trading 2023 and 2024 third-rounders to climb eight spots to 33 for the Kentucky QB.

This draft brought some notable what-ifs regarding the non-Jaguars wing of the AFC South, seeing as the Colts were tied to Levis for weeks only to have been preparing an Anthony Richardson pick for a while. Should Stroud, Richardson and Levis become surefire starters, this will certainly go down as one of the most pivotal drafts in the AFC South’s 22-year history.

Texans Open To Trading Down; Team Preparing To Pass On QB At No. 2?

Nick Caserio does not intend to leave Houston after the draft, but the third-year GM is facing a decision comparable to the Texans’ 2006 Reggie Bush-or-Mario Williams call. The Texans stunned the football masses 17 years ago by taking Williams at No. 1; they continue to be linked to making another unexpected move.

The Texans are willing to listen to offers for their No. 2 overall pick, Caserio said Monday, adding calls have come in. Teams with top-five choices generally listen, though franchises with clear quarterback needs could be considered less inclined to entertain offers. But the Texans are believed to have placed a bit of a value gap between expected No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, who is now expected to be available at No. 2.

Suddenly, this draft’s potential early run on quarterbacks is far from a lock to continue at 2. The Texans look likely to pass on Stroud or any other quarterback at 2, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said during an NFL Live appearance (h/t Brobible’s Dov Kleiman). The prospect of Houston punting on filling its QB need at 2 has been out there for a bit now, but the consensus viewpoint has still been the team taking a passer — presumably Stroud — with the first of its two first-round picks. But the Texans also could nab a potentially safer pass-rushing prospect in this spot.

While the post-Peyton Manning Broncos, late-Doug Marrone-era Jaguars and Mitchell Trubisky-years Bears provide examples of the uphill battles that can form when high-end pass rushers are on teams without reliable quarterbacks, the Texans may well be considering Will Anderson Jr. or Tyree Wilson at 2. A previous report indicated the Texans were high on Anderson, but NBC Sports’ Peter King points to Wilson gaining steam, indicating he would not be surprised if the Texans chose the Texas Tech edge rusher over the two-time Bronko Nagurski award winner.

Both Anderson and Wilson have visited the Texans, and certain NFL staffers view the less productive Big 12 edge as presenting more upside than the SEC dynamo. Anderson finished with 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons; Wilson collected 14 and is coming off a season-ending foot injury. The Texans need help at defensive end, and former No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa obviously made a considerable impact on DeMeco Ryans‘ career progression. It would still be a risk if the Texans leave Stroud on the board, and it would be interesting to see if the team makes an active effort to trade down if/once the Panthers select Young.

Sitting at No. 4, the Colts view the prospect of all the non-Young QBs being available to them as realistic, Schefter adds. A recent report indicated Indianapolis was leaning against trading up for a passer. The Cardinals have spoken with several teams about trading the No. 3 overall pick, as those teams would seemingly aim to leapfrog the QB-needy Colts, but Schefter indicates Indy has a real shot of staying at 4 and landing this draft’s QB2.

This reality would take the Cardinals standing pat and taking the best player available, which could be the edge rusher the Texans do not draft, but a QB-QB-QB start to this draft suddenly appears unlikely. Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock draft has a QB-QB-QB-QB start, featuring Anthony Richardson and Will Levis going at Nos. 3 and 4, but Schefter doused that in cold water. The Colts are believed to rank Levis over Richardson, but we are in peak misdirection season. Stroud sitting there at 4 could render a Richardson-or-Levis decision moot.

A scenario in which non-QBs go off the board at Nos. 2 and 3 would hinge on the Cardinals not receiving the offer they want, and it would certainly make the Panthers’ eight-spot trade-up before free agency — which cost them D.J. Moore, their 2024 first-round pick and other assets — subject to scrutiny it has not yet received. The Texans also would be sitting at No. 12 in need of a quarterback.

Case Keenum and Davis Mills represent the Texans’ current QB room, and while the 2024 draft could include highly touted QB prospects Caleb Williams (USC) and Drake Maye (North Carolina), the AFC South team — which also hosted potential second-rounder Hendon Hooker on a visit — would certainly take a risk by not addressing its top need this year.