Nick Caserio, left, has had an impressive year. Photo courtesy of Houston Texans
Texans GM Nick Caserio inherited a major mess from Bill O’Brien. He’s cleaned it up quite nicely.
He arrived at perhaps the lowest point in the history of the Houston Texans. The franchise was floundering on and off the field. For the first time, fans had turned against the team. The Texans needed a new leader, and their path to choosing him was perhaps somewhat dubious. Yet, a year and a half after taking the job, and more than two years after their first attempts to woo him, Nick Caserio has shown to be the right man for the job.
The story was salacious. Texans EVP of football operations Jack Easterby was under fire by fans and media alike. Many wanted him fired by the organization. Team CEO Cal McNair stated publicly that whomever the team hired as the new GM would decide Easterby’s fate with the franchise.
The team hired an executive search firm to find a new GM, and then after the search produced viable candidates and those candidates were interviewed, the team decided to scrap all of it and circle back to Nick Caserio, the man they tried and failed to recruit the year before from the Patriots that resulted in the team getting slapped with tampering charged that were later dropped when Houston agreed to end its pursuit of Caserio.
Easterby, of course, was the driving force behind the Texans decision to circle back to Caserio and hire him very quickly. While the short-term narrative at the time was Jack convinced Cal to hire his friend Nick to save his own job, the Texans thought Caserio was the right guy for the job the year before as well, and it did seem odd he wasn’t part of their search as it was happening.
Caserio entered the Texans organization in an historic state of disarray. O’Brien, who had been handed the reigns when Caserio was off limits, sent the team into a downward spiral with a series of horrific decisions. It started with the botched trade of Jadaveon Clowney, where O’Brien waited until after the franchise tag deadline had passed at which point he was not eligible to be signed to a multi-year deal, leading the team to not only trade him for far below market value to the Seahawks but also to pay half of his salary to play elsewhere. Following that, O’Brein decided to give up two first-round picks in exchange for LT Laremy Tunsil of the Dolphins, one of which became the #3 overall pick. Compounding that, O’Brein inflicted major damage to the salary cap by signing several players to long term contracts well above their market values, particularly to Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham and Nick Martin.
Then there was the granddaddy of them all, the Deandre Hopkins trade. O’Brien not only traded Hopkins for a sliver of his actual value to Arizona for RB David Johnson and a second round pick, but agreed to take on the full contract of Johnson in the process, over $11M in 2020. O’Brien’s coup de grace came when he gave a record contract to Laremy Tunsil, making him the highest paid tackle in the NFL by $4M per season.
The team was stripped of talent and draft capital. Caserio had the greatest clean up job in the history of Houston sports waiting for him. Then Deshaun Watson happened.
The Texans QB, already in the midst of a trade demand before his mammoth extension even began, was very unhappy to find out Nick Caserio was being named GM via the media while on vacation in Mexico. He wasn’t wavering on his decision to force a trade when the bombshell hit. Tony Buzbee was filing a civil suit against him for sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Buzbee promised there would be more suits. He would ultimately file 25 of them (one would later cancel their suit against him).
Deshaun was now a toxic asset. Caserio still was without a first or second round pick thanks to the trades of O’Brien. The roster was bereft of talent. The fans were still angry. The media was hammering on the Texans on a daily basis, not just locally but nationally. The Texans were a laughingstock, and Nick Caserio inherited all of it.
His first coaching search did not go well, largely in part to the way the Texans organization was perceived and the uncertainty surrounding the status of Deshaun Watson. It seemed no viable candidate really wanted the job. The team ultimately settled on David Culley, a good man and a terribly inexperienced head coach who was over his head from the jump.
His first draft was considered a success, despite not having any first or second round picks. It produced players who ultimately became starters last season in QB Davis Mills (3rd), WR Nico Collins (3rd) and DT Roy Lopez (6th). It produced rotational players a year ago in TE Brevin Jordan (5th) and LB Garrett Wallow (5th), with each making two starts a season ago. Jordan may still be expected to start Week 1 this season.
Caserio protected his cap space by signing over 30 players to 1-year contracts, not committing money to any players into the future. He had to figure out a way to trade a star QB under intense public scrutiny for over two dozen sexual misconduct and assault claims. It was going to be a painful transition year.
In the aftermath of a 4-13 season that saw some high-priced veterans moved out or released, David Culley fired, and a wild coaching search that saw the team ultimately promote Lovie Smith from within, Caserio set out to begin the rebuild of the Houston Texans. It started with the massive trade of Deshaun Watson to the Browns in exchange for three first-round picks (2022,2023, 2024), a third round pick (2022) and a fourth round pick (2024) about a month before the 2022 NFL Draft.
His second draft has been considered an even bigger success than his first. CB Derek Stingley Jr (1st), OG Kenyon Green (1st) and S Jalen Pitre (2nd) will all be immediate starters and look like impact players. WR John Metchie III (2nd) would have likely been the starting slot receiver had he not be diagnosed with leukemia, which will force him to miss the 2022 season. 3rd round pick LB Christian Harris is expected to start when healthy, and RB Dameon Pierce (4th) ran away with the starting job in the preseason. 5th round DT Thomas Booker and 6th round OT Austin Deculus made the 53-man roster, and TE Teagan Quitoriano would have made the 53-man had he not been injured, he is currently on IR.
Caserio has greatly transformed the roster with an incredible influx of strong, young talent. He then made two very savvy moves following cutdown day, getting WR Tyler Johnson on waivers from the Buccaneers and signing TE OJ Howard, who was released by the Bills. Both players represent cheap but demonstrable upgrades at their positions.
A year ago, the Texans were a rudderless ship, getting tossed about while adrift at sea. This year the Texans are a team with a clear plan, a team vision, and a path to executing that vision.
No longer are fans worried about what Cal McNair said or what Jack Easterby is doing, Nick Caserio has become the face of management. Nick Caserio is in charge of the Houston Texans, and that could not be clearer.
The clean-up job was nearly impossible, yet in under two years, Caserio has not only cleaned up the franchise, but has them headed in the right direction and has fostered hope among the fanbase again.
How Caserio got to Houston may not have been “the right way” to some, but he has proven to date that he is clearly the right man for the job.