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Patriots owner Robert Kraft is not going to let Nick Caserio go without a fight.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is not going to let Nick Caserio go without a fight.
Photo by Marco Torres

NickGate: Patriots File Tampering Charges Against Texans' Pursuit of Nick Caserio

Well, the Houston Texans pursuit of a new general manager, specifically New England Patriots' director of player personnel Nick Caserio, to replace the ousted Brian Gaine took an odd, angry turn on Wednesday afternoon, as the Patriots basically lobbed a grenade into the middle of the Texans' search by filing tampering charges against the Texans with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's office.

So now, in what is typically a part of the NFL calendar where players, coaches, and personnel folks are getting ready to head into vacation for a few weeks before training camp, the Houston Texans are not only looking for a new general manager, but they're now trying to dodge punishment for charges that their efforts to fill the vacancy were performed in an underhanded fashion.

Here are the things that you need to know about the latest twist in what has, all of a sudden, become a very lively Texans offseason:

The crux of the Patriots' contentions center around Jack Easterby
If you're not aware of Easterby, he is the Texans' new (as of April) Executive VP of Team Development, and a former "character coach" for the Patriots ofr six seasons. He was in Foxborough last Thursday for the Patriots' ring ceremony at Robert Kraft's mansion, and obviously at that shindig, he spent some time talking to his dear friend (and leading candidate to replace Brian Gaine) Nick Caserio.

Less than 24 hours later, Gaine was fired and the Texans were requesting permission to interview Caserio to become their new GM. Honestly, even if they have no tangible evidence of tampering by Caserio — the Patriots are reportedly submitting photos and video from the ceremony as evidence — the Patriots almost have to throw up a red flag on principle, because the timing of everything, from the ring ceremony to Gaine's ouster, seems far too obvious.

The irony in all of this, obviously, is the central figure of a budding tampering scandal being someone with the recent title of "character coach." My hunch is that, at the bare minimum, Easterby is too smart to have tampered with Caserio at that party. Who knows what the league's investigation will turn up after examining phone records and electronic communication between all parties?

Could this just be a chess move by the Patriots?
It could very well be that the Patriots' pile of evidence is fairly flimsy in this case, but they're filing these charges to gum up the works, make the Texans feel a little uncomfortable, and most importantly, try to extract some sort of compensation for Caserio.

It's unclear as to whether or not the Patriots can block Caserio from interviewing with the Texans based on league rules that would allow him to interview if he is not considered a "high level employee" of the Patriots. If it arrives at a point where both sides feel a trade of some sort is necessary, then it would likely be some sort of draft pick compensation, perhaps a first round pick, going from Houston to New England to allow Caserio to move over to the Texans.

If it turns out the Texans DID tamper, what's the punishment?
The league's tampering rule reads as follows: “Any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL is impermissible.” If it turns out the league finds the Texans culpable, then they would likely be fined and forfeit some level of draft capital.

The most recent punishment for tampering came in 2016, and it involved a player, not a GM. The Kansas City Chiefs were punished by the league for tampering with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was a Philadelphia Eagle at the time of the transgression. The Chiefs had to forfeit a 2016 third round pick, a 2017 6th round pick, and pay a $350,000 fine. My guess is that, if the tampering punishment is fluid depending on the criticality of the target, a general manager would yield a far greater punishment than a wide receiver.

Oh yeah, what about Caserio?
Lost in all of the storylines surrounding the tampering charges (and there are several juicy ones) is the very basic knowledge, and really the most critical thing, as to whether or not Nick Caserio wants to leave the Patriots to join Bill O'Brien and Easterby in Houston to become the general manager of the Texans. The rapid escalation of tension in this saga in the last 24 hours would seem to indicate that the Patriots are trying to prevent Caserio from doing something, unless Caserio is indeed staying in New England, and the Patriots are just trying to get the Texans punished for dipping their hands into the Patriots' cookie jar.

The tell may come from whether the Texans continue to entertain other candidates for the job. If the flow of candidates stops — thus far, there have been two interviews conducted, with former Browns GM Ray Farmer and former Lions GM Martin Mayhew — then it would appear that the Texans are waiting out the Caserio saga. If the Texans continue to interview other candidates, then perhaps Caserio is staying in New England and the Patriots just want their pound of flesh.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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