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Wait, The Texans Could Have Challenged Nick Caserio’s Contract With The Patriots After All?

This entire dumb saga just keeps getting more and more confusing.

NFL: Houston Texans-Minicamp Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The dumbest saga in the history of the dumb saga that is the Houston Texans just keep getting dumber. It seems apparent the Texans fired Brian Gaine so they could make Nick Caserio their general manager. You know the story: The Texans fired Gaine, tried to interview Caserio, the Patriots brought upon tampering charges, the Texans whimpered and backed off, the Pats dropped the charges, and now, the Texans will forgo having a general manager this season and probably make a run at Caserio next year.

One of the problems with Houston’s attempt to sign Caserio was that he allegedly had a clause in his contract that prevented him from leaving the Patriots. But according to Pro Football Talk, the Texans could have challenged this clause, and it probably wouldn’t have been possible for the Patriots to enforce it, so the Texans probably would have been able to beat any tampering charges brought against them.

The NFL’s anti-tampering policy outlines the circumstances in which a team may hire an executive from another team to become a “high-level employee,” as defined by the policy. Here’s the key passage from the policy: “If . . . the inquiring club is prepared to offer a position as a high-level employee . . . the employer club may not deny the employee the opportunity to discuss and accept such employment.”

The emphasis wasn’t added by me; it appears in the policy. And the argument would be, if push comes to shove, that this provision of the tampering policy supersedes the Caserio clause, which as applied would prevent him from leaving his non-high-level employee job with the Patriots (coach Bill Belichick obviously runs the show in New England) for an opportunity to become a “high-level employee” with another team.

As one league source has explained it to PFT, at least one other team has had a similar clause in the contract of a non-high-level employee. And at least one other team challenged that clause. And the NFL ultimately invalidated the clause.

So, basically, the Texans could have challenged the Caserio clause. It’s unclear whether the Texans know that. It’s possible that they don’t, given the current dearth of football business expertise in the organization, with owner Cal McNair still getting up to speed and meteorically rising Jack-of-All-Trades Easterby likely not as knowledgeable as he could/should be. It’s also possible that they know, but that they backed off given whatever evidence of actual tampering (that is, direct communications with Caserio by the Texans before G.M. Brian Gaine was fired) that the Patriots were able to produce in the aftermath of the filing of the now-abandoned tampering charge.

Regardless, Caserio arguably isn’t bound to the Patriots, notwithstanding the Caserio clause. If he isn’t a non-high-level employee (again, Belichick runs the show) and if another team offers Caserio a position that makes him a high-level employee, any agreement between Caserio and the Patriots to the contrary could be invalidated, if the other team challenges it.

The Texans didn’t get their guy. They don’t have a guy. And now their power structure will be as follows:

The current management structure, as noted by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, consists of coach Bill O’Brien, executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby, senior vice president Chris Olsen (who handles the salary cap and contract negotiations), and team president Jamey Rootes (who runs the business side of the franchise). Presumably, O’Brien will become the top talent evaluator, especially since he already has final say over the 53-man roster. Some suspect that Easterby, whose rise from Chiefs’ team chaplain to the Texans’ executive vice president has been both meteoric and, for many, confusing, will continue to climb the ladder, regardless of whether it’s anchored in bed of quicksand.

What a ridiculous offseason.