Sean Pendergast

Four Most Important Nick Caserio Answers at NFL Combine Press Conference

Nick Caserio faced the media in Indianapolis on Tuesday at the NFL Combine.
Photo by Sean Pendergast
Nick Caserio faced the media in Indianapolis on Tuesday at the NFL Combine.
Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio took over the team at a very strange time to become a first time general manager, and I'm not just referring to the entire Deshaun Watson saga, in which Caserio's franchise quarterback demanded a trade within about 24 hours of Caserio's getting the job.

Caserio took the reins of the Texans in an offseason coming off of a college and NFL season that was ravaged by COVID. The disjointed, truncated nature of the college portion of that previous season made scouting the 2021 draft class, in many ways, difficult, and in some ways, almost impossible. Part of the bizarre nature of the 2021 draft season was the absence of an NFL combine.

Typically, in late February or early March, several hundred draft prospects descend upon Indianapolis to perform drills, take tests, and answer interview questions for personnel executives from the 32 NFL franchises. Last offseason, COVID wiped that out. This year, the combine is back, and for the first time, Caserio faced a national media throng, who were there to try to learn more about one of the league's more newsworthy franchises (and not necessarily newsworthy for all the right reasons).

Caserio's full 18-minute session can be seen here (fast forward to the 19:00 minute mark for his press conference):
To net out the highlights, these were, in my estimation, the four most important things we learned from a very broad interview and overview from the Texans' GM:

We learned that Caserio is, indeed, very much open for business with the third overall pick
"As far as when trades or movement and those types of things that take place, those are things as you get a little bit closer to the Draft you're having dialogue or discussions with other teams about that, which probably doesn't make that much sense, but philosophically in terms of team building, the people that have followed us, we're pretty open-minded, we're pretty flexible, like whatever means necessary, so whether it's trade, whether it's move back in the draft, whether it's move up, whether it's trade with another team in the League, whatever it is, we're going to explore all avenues."
This draft is widely viewed as one that lacks (a) a clear cut superstar player, or (b) a sure fire franchise quarterback. To be sure, this draft will end up yielding each of those things, perhaps in great numbers, but this crop of players is a tough one from whom to predict results. Thus, a team like the Texans, with a billion needs to fill, may just want more swings at the plate, i.e. a plethora of draft picks. There are two ways to accomplish that — trade back and pick up extra picks, OR trade your franchise quarterback who is facing 22 civil lawsuits. Hey, speaking of that!

We learned that Caserio handles Deshaun Watson questions the same way for national media as he does on my radio show
"I would say that situation, we've talked about this with our group, we're day to day in terms of handling that. Once the information becomes more relevant or prevalent, then we'll handle it accordingly. My philosophy from the beginning has always been to do the right thing by the Houston Texans organization, and we're going to continue to do that here moving forward."
I will give Caserio credit. Whereas, early on in the Watson saga, he would completely lean on "doing what's best for the Texans," over time he has at least acknowledged that an unprecedented situation exists, and that there is an end to the timeline somewhere in the future. My guess is Caserio longs for the day the Watson story ends, and Caserio can function like a normal GM.

Caserio went deep on salary cap space talk, perhaps foreshadowing a contractual bloodletting coming soon
"You can create cap space in many different ways, so you want to have a manageable amount. I'd say your cap situation is also going to dictate the pool of players that you're going to maybe have an opportunity to add to your roster during free agency, but I'd say philosophically our belief is the value of the player commensurate with the role, and you try to match those up. Okay, so the role is X; okay, that role is worth X number is worth this. Okay, if the value of the player goes beyond what the role is, then you have to make a determination, is it worth pursuing that player or you know what, we're going to have to let him go and try to find somebody else that maybe fits the role that we have in mind."
The Texans are already heading into the 2022 season with more dead cap money (i.e. cap dollars being allocated to people no longer on the Texans' roster) than any other NFL team. The team is in the middle of the pack when it comes to salary cap space to use on free agents. It wouldn't be a shock to see three or four current players released to create more room under the cap. Keep an eye on Eric Murray, Marcus Cannon, and Justin McCray.

Nick Caserio is going to take the full credit or blame, whichever applies, for the Lovie Smith hire
"Yeah, ultimately Cal kind of put it on my shoulders to make the decision I felt was best and to bring candidates to the table. Cal was very, I would say, supportive and open and certainly put a lot of stock in the things that I had to say."
As he should, Caserio is putting this hire all on himself, although it would be fascinating to know the full truth of how Lovie Smith became the leader in the clubhouse, and eventual head coach. Was it a gradual process throughout the search (as has been portrayed by Caserio), or was it an abrupt response to the Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL for racial discrimination?

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