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Cal McNair’s “Very Clear” Message

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The new owner of the Houston Texans is on a mission.

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Miami Dolphins v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

During the post-practice interviews yesterday, before J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson and Johnathan Joseph took the podium, Houston head coach Bill O’Brien ducked the question of just what happened to Brian Gaine. The few words O’Brien did share on the subject seemed to be very telling.

Bill O’Brien (on his meeting with Cal McNair)

“[Cal] was very clear with me on what we needed to do to grow as an organization. He’s a humble person, very good at articulating what he wants, his vision, the improvements he thinks needs to be made relative to the whole building. He’s not afraid to make tough decisions. He wants to win.”

Often, when the term “very clear” is used in the context of expectations, it comes with an “or else” sort of statement. Take that as you will.

In light of everything we know so far of the situation, this seems a little less far-fetched now:

Red Zone Play

But what if Cal McNair is going in a different direction altogether? What if he’s more intent on breaking up the Boston Boys Club and has his sights on, say, Reggie McKenzie, the guy who brought Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Marshawn Lynch to Oakland to help turn them back into a playoff contender? If that happens, it’s a good bet Bill O’Brien has been put on notice that this is his last year of excuses and J.J. Watt better get a shot at a Lombardi this year or else.

However, knowing McNair is passionately involved and wants to take this team to the next level is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened since the Texans won their latest playoff berth last season.

While nearly everyone seems to have Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio firmly seated in the top seed in their bracket to fill the Houston general manager vacancy, that road may not be as wide open as some in H-Town may wish. Since the Texans formally requested permission to interview Caserio last Friday, a veritable eternity in NFL power plays, it seems less and less likely Caserio is ready to move to Space City.

USA Today

Because Caserio’s duties in New England are hugely expansive and yet also fairly undefined, Belichick could claim a pair of things to block the interview. The NFL allows teams to block interviews in season (which is what happened last January) or if the person being requested is already a “high-level” employee. The NFL defines that as someone who reports directly to the owner — which is not the case with Caserio — or who has significant duties.

In this case, Belichick could claim that Caserio “(i) is the primary authority over all personnel decisions related to the signing of free agents, the selection of players in the College Draft, trades, and related decisions; and (ii) the primary responsibility for coordinating other football activities with the head coach.” That would qualify Caserio as a high-level club employee. Team’s are allowed to stop other teams from hiring away a high-level club employee. However, Belichick may not want to relinquish his final say as primary authority. So…

Belichick could concede that Caserio is not a “high-level” part of the Patriots but block the interview by contending that the Texans don’t actually plan on making Caserio a high-level employee.

In this scenario, Belichick could seek an understanding of the Texans power dynamic for Caserio. If, upon joining Houston, Caserio was also not the “primary authority,” and instead was forced to report to O’Brien, then Caserio would not be getting the title of “high-level club employee.” Because moving from New England to Houston wouldn’t be a promotion, Belichick might be able to block the interview. (Though it’s hard to imagine Caserio would want to join the Texans in a “GM light” role.”)

Belichick doesn’t have a history of rejecting interviews — in fact he let Caserio talk to the 49ers in 2017. So perhaps the Patriots coach will be more open to the idea at this point in the season. Perhaps he will let Caserio walk.

The next question is whether Caserio would actually want to leave. One source with knowledge of the Patriots organization told For The Win that Caserio would be interested in the job because of the fit with O’Brien, a former Patriots offensive coordinator. But Caserio has made zero indication on whether he’d like to leave New England. If he did stay, he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — who have known each other since attending college together — could potentially be the succession plan for Belichick when he retires.

So while the Texans may be firmly committed to Caserio, they may not even get the chance to interview him, which could leave them looking foolish if they fired Gaine with hopes of hiring Caserio.

Mike Reiss of ESPN has a different take, however.

Reiss

The 43-year-old (Caserio) 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.

So what can we take from this? Well, the status quo in Houston is no more. Thank you! But piecing together all the tidbits does seem to make it less likely Caserio will land here and more likely that someone who isn’t getting all the attention will.

With former New England “Character Coach” Jack Easterby’s alleged new powers and role within the H-Town organization, you can bet he’s not only influenced the ousting of Brian Gaine, but working behind the scenes to land Caserio - or make it look like he is. Having Easterby on the Texans is a good thing - a very good thing. Described as radically intelligent, Easterby is also a very high character guy, as evidenced by his departure from the Patriots, where he had what many would consider a dream job. When Robert Kraft’s latest alleged debauchery came to light, Easterby promptly packed his bags and disassociated himself from the apparent lack of character exhibited by New England ownership. Any man who stands up for what is right, regardless of personal loss by doing so, is the kind of man most Texans (not just the Houston variety) can respect and admire. Having that sort of character and intelligence heavily influencing the direction of the Houston Texans can only be a good thing.

Sports Radio 610

In addition, the power structure within Texans football operations is expected to be redefined, with Texans senior vice president Jack Easterby taking on as powerful a role as the GM, if not more so. Under the new football brain trust, Easterby could well have final say on all football-related decision before they go to Texans owner Cal McNair, the source said.

Easterby, who played a decisive role in the firing of former GM Brian Gaine, has been the Texans executive vice president for team development since April 2. He was integral in evaluating all football-related aspects of the organization at the behest of Cal McNair, who initiated the evaluation after taking over day-to-day operations in the wake of his father’s death.

Moving forward, McNair expects O’Brien, Easterby and the new GM to have well-defined, compatible roles in terms of on-field, scouting, and off-field operations. While the threesome are expected to work together equally, Easterby ultimately will oversee decisions and settle disputes.

In essence, with Gaine’s departure, Easterby has become one of, if not the most powerful voice in the building not named McNair.

What does this all mean for the Houston Texans fanbase? Well, hopefully we’ll all know by Friday. If nothing else, it’s been an interesting ride through the behind-the-scenes backroads of NFL maneuvering. Hopefully, McNair, Easterby and O’Brien can thread the gaps like Arian Foster in his prime and not run into a defensive tackled filled A-Gap for no “Gaine”.

What do you think of Houston’s “new direction”? Think Caserio will be the new GM?