GENERAL MANAGER NICK CASERIO
"Good morning. I appreciate everyone being here this morning. I know there's probably other things you'd rather be doing on a Saturday morning here in Houston. Never a dull moment in the Houston sports scene, that's for sure. Before we get into the football aspect, just a quick thought. It seems like every time we get together unfortunately it's kind of on a sad note. The loss of John Clayton. I know there's probably a lot of people here that either worked with John or had an interaction with John. I don't want to speak for anybody, but my guess is your interaction was nothing but positive. His humility, his grace, who he was as a person to lose somebody like that, I'm sure it's a trickle down effect to a lot of people. Certainly thoughts go out to people who had a relationship with him, to his family, to the ESPN community. He probably had one of the best commercials that anybody's ever seen. That speaks to his wit and his humor. It kind of puts things into perspective when something like that happens. A lot has happened since we got together at the Combine. At the Combine we talked a little bit about what was going on, it was kind of on the precipice of what was going on with the Ukraine/Russia situation and that hasn't gone away. I think sometimes we kind of lose context in real life and what's going on. Football is football, a sport is a sport, but I think it's important to keep perspective on those types of things.
As it pertains to what took place yesterday, it's probably important to kind of go back really to do the day that I was hired. I've said from the beginning that we're going to take things one day at a time, we're going to be patient, we're going to control the things that we can control and I think I've been pretty consistent from the beginning on that front. However long it's been – 15 months – to kind of get to this point here. The biggest thing yesterday provides everybody is clarity in terms of direction. I think Deshaun has clarity on his end relative to what his future holds from a football standpoint. I think there's some things still on a legal front, I don't really want to get into that, but that will have to take place. Just clarity for him individually, clarity for our organization in terms of what the expectation is moving forward and what we have in place. Really what we're trying to do is put together a consistent winner, put together a foundation and put together a team that a lot of people can be proud of. People within the organization, players, coaches, front office people, the fans most importantly. I think everybody just wanted clarity and we said from the beginning we're going to be patient, going to try to be very thoughtful and try to make the right decision for the organization. Yesterday we felt was that opportunity and we felt was the right time, so that's why we went ahead and made the decision that we did. We're excited about moving forward. That's the big thing to take from this is to look forward, to think about what's ahead of us. There's a lot of work that we need to get done, no question about it. We're a long way from where we need to be. There's a lot of work ahead of us, but I think everybody's excited, everybody's anticipating the next step in the offseason program which should begin April 11. We've had 25-30 players here over the last two to three weeks on a consistent basis. We're preparing for the 2022 season and I think everybody's preparing for the opportunity that's in front of them. No one player, no one thing is going to change this organization and it's not going to happen overnight. There's a lot of work and purposeful work that's going to go into it, but I think we're headed in the right direction. The draft assets and the draft allocation, that'll kind of take care of itself and we have a job to do on that front. Hopefully we're positioning ourselves organizationally to put ourselves in a position where we can hopefully have success, sustainable success for a long period of time. We're not there yet and I don't want anyone to misconstrue or anybody to think otherwise, but I would say we're positioned here today, where the team is positioned currently, building on the foundation we put in place a little bit last year. Some of the players that we've re-signed in free agency, which we can certainly talk about, happy to address some of that here as we go. Then not looking too far ahead, but as it sits here today we have almost $100 million in salary cap space at our disposal. There's a lot of things that could change between now and then, but I would say just where we are today that's where we're positioned. I think it's important for us to move forward and that's the most important thing."
With the return you got for Deshaun Watson, how much did that match with the value you wanted? Can you describe the process?
"Our job, whether it's a coach or player, is to ID, fix, assess and then find solutions to whatever the impediments or perceived impediments may be. Certainly that was a part of the equation that we had to factor in. I think the impetus for getting teams to the table when you have a situation like that was there's X number of teams that there would have been interest in potentially waiving that clause for, so in order to get those teams to the table we had a certain threshold of what it would take to get to that point for those initial discussions to take place. From there, you have to work through the trade compensation and whatever the compensation is that you feel makes the most sense. I think you have to be thoughtful and you have to take the information, process it and try to make the best decision at that time so that's why we went ahead and did what we did."
Because of the no-trade clause, how much did this become a collaborative situation?
"There were certain parameters that were put in place, so we worked with David (Mulugheta) who worked with Deshaun. There was certainly communication early in the process and we articulated that to the respective teams early in the week and then the process went from there."
At what point did you know Deshaun Watson was never going to play for you again?
"I don't think there was any particular point in time. Like I've said from the beginning, kind of one day at a time. What the future holds, to a certain extent, out of my control, out of anybody's control. Control the things that we can control. I don't want to speak for him about what his intentions were or whether or not those were going change. My responsibility is to our organization and it's going to continue to be that as long as I'm in my position. I think that's the most important thing for all of us to recognize and just to move forward."
Did anything change from your perspective from when Watson first requested a trade, and when the lawsuits were filed?
"No, we took it one day at a time. I think we've talked multiple times (with the media), we take everything one day at a time, take everything and process it and try not to project about what may or may not happen. That's kind of how we try to approach it. I think what we've talked about this previously, we kind of create two separate buckets. Keep that bucket over here, while also trying to maintain our focus on trying to run a football team. So the players and coaches during the season, that was their focus. Ultimately this was kind of my responsibility, plus ownership, to kind of handle the situation. That's what I've tried to do."
Has this changed your perspective on no-trade clauses in player contracts, and what do you think of the idea of weaponizing a no-trade clause to force a trade?
"I would say whatever took place prior to my arrival, I certainly can't control. What I'm going to try to do is do what I feel is best for our organization, and whatever that entails, whether that's contract from a contract structure. A lot of that too comes down to negotiation with the other side. There's always going to be, even during free agency if you want to look at it in real time, there's going to be a little bit of a give and take. The player thinks he's worth X, we think he's worth Y. What are the things that are most relevant and what are the things that are most pressing, what are the things that are really most important to you, said player, in order to consummate an agreement. That's part of my responsibility, part of my dialogue with whoever that may party is on the other side. My responsibility is to try and do the best thing by the organization and do what I think is right, and then provide that information to the ownership. Ultimately from a football operations standpoint as it pertains to adding players to the team, that's going to something were I continue to make sure I make the decisions.
Are there lessons you've learned about how the organization can cultivate relationships with star players?
"The goal of any organization is to try to have success collaboratively. So, you have to rely on everybody. You can't make it about one person. If you make it about one person, it takes it out of the context of the team. I would say with football specifically, there's 53 players, and when you add the practice squad players, you're talking about 70 players that are impacted on a day-to-day basis. And then the relationships between those players, the relationships with the 20 or so coaches, and then the relationships with the people outside of the football operation. All of those relationships are going to be important, so I think the best practice is to maintain dialogue, have open communication, support each other and if there's a difference of opinion on something, try to come up with some degree of a resolution. Again, like we talked about earlier, this is a solutions-based business. It's about finding solutions, it's about trying to provide answers to questions that you think make the most sense for everybody. I think every day is an opportunity for us to learn something and just try to make good decisions and try to install the best practices, but in the end the goal organizationally is to try to win. You can't do that unless you're doing it collectively as a group. So that's what our players want, that's what our coaches want, that's what our fans want. Lovie's talked about that, he knows that our fans just want to see a good product on the field, good players, and they want to see the team operate very functionally. That's hopefully what we're going to do here moving forward. Just know first of all that there's no crystal ball, no magic dust, so we just kind of take it one day at a time and try to work. I've said this before, it's really about the work. It's about the work that we put in, the work that we do in the offseason, the work that we do on the field. Ultimately it's going to lead to hopefully a good result on the field."
Are you considering drafting a quarterback next month?
"Certainly wouldn't jump to any conclusions. I would say specific to Davis (Mills), Davis had opportunities last year and did a nice job with those opportunities. But we're going to start from scratch a little bit. I would say when you get into the draft, you really don't want to necessarily eliminate any position or particular player. You just want to look at it with the mentality and just figure out what makes the most sense for the organization. It's about picking good players, it's about picking the right players that you think fit what you're trying to do. We'll look at everything, we're knee deep in that right now and we'll have another five or six weeks left until we get to the draft to work through that process. But Davis has certainly earned an opportunity here, and that's kind of the extent of what he's earned. But I think he's excited about the chances that he has in front of him, and we'll see how it all unfolds."
How many team were initially interested in making a trade?
"I would say there was a fair amount of teams, but what we tried to do was bring the teams that had a legitimate interest, and that was based off the compensation that was presented. Going back to the earlier questions, I think there was a certain threshold that I had established in order to make it a legitimate discussion, and if we got to that point then we could engage further. I don't want to get into the exact number, but there was a few more, however many teams than what everybody was reporting towards the end."
How much do you believe the situation with Deshaun Watson set this franchise back, and how much do you think the compensation you received in the trade will help the team right itself?
"We can't really worry about what's happened in the past. We're kind of here, present day and time. But look, we've won four games over each of the last two seasons. So there's certainly opportunity and room for improvement. Our job is to try to continue to bring good players into our program, give them the opportunity to have success on the field. Really, it's going to come down to how well we can execute on Sunday and how many games we win. It's not going to be about one particular player or one particular pick. Good players come throughout the draft. Good players come in the draft through all rounds, good players come from other teams, good players come from free agency. There have been plenty of players in this league that weren't drafted that are some of the better players at their positions. So you really don't want to pigeon hole yourself and say, 'Well, if we don't do this with this pick, it's going to put the organization in a difficult situation.' All we can deal with is the truth, and that's where we are right now. I think the most important thing is like I talked about from the beginning; we're excited about the opportunity to move forward. There's a lot of work ahead of us, but I think we're in a better position maybe than we were previously because there's clarity for everybody involved."
Is there any sense of relief now that this is not hanging over your head?
"I think again, the most important thing is clarity. Everybody has clarity, everybody just has an understanding of where we stand. That's the most important thing for all of us to understand and recognize. We managed the situation probably as best as we could, and I tried to probably take the burden and responsibility onto my shoulders because ultimately it was going to be something that I was going to have to deal with and handle. Try to take it off the players, try to take it off the coaches and let them focus on the things that they do well, which is playing and coaching football."
Are you thinking about bringing in any veteran quarterbacks?
"We'll look at all of our options and what those entail. I would say there's no timeline or set deadline. I think right now, we're at about 68 or 69 players on the roster, so at some point we're probably going to have further additions to the team whether it's in the next few weeks. Obviously, we're going to have new players on the team here at the end of April, and then between now and at the end of the season, there's a lot of things that could potentially happen. We're certainly cognizant of what's going on in the league. We've done a lot of work and we'll look at every option, and ultimately we'll do what we feel is best for our situation."
Colin Kaepernick was in town throwing recently. Is he someone you would look at, and did any of your personnel go to watch him throw?
"That's not something that I was aware of or aware of where he was. Again, we'll do whatever we think is best for our organization. We'll look at whatever the options are, wherever they come from."
There were reports out there about getting players back. What are your thoughts on not getting some established players back?
"There's always reports out there right. I would say other than three first round picks I would say probably the rest of it was a little bit of speculation. You just try to look at what makes the most sense. Not to go stock market here but the market is the market. So, whatever the market says, you can't create the market. The market is whatever the market is. You have to take that information and ok, 'whatever the market says it is, that's what the market says it is.' You can't make up a market. You can have a market in your own mine., "Well it should be X well then if it's Y then it goes back to what we were talking about before, just find a resolution. What's the solution? We'll see how it goes but again I would say there wasn't a set number that was important."
Looking forward and controlling what you can control, how confident are you that if you find a player of Deshaun Watson's caliber he's not going to want to be a Houston Texan?
"Nothing is guaranteed so I don't want to sit here and say that anything is guaranteed. The hope is that we bring players into the organization that want to be a part of what we are doing, and I think we've seen some of that in free agency and my interactions and discussions with agents. There are players that want to come to Houston. There are players that want to be in our program. There are players that want to play for Lovie (Smith). There are players that want to play with the players that we have in our program. Our job is to try and go out and find players that fit the profile of what we are looking for, of the team we are trying to create, of the team that we want to be and be able to identify those players and bring them into the building. Once they are in the building, our job is to develop them, is to coach them and give them an opportunity to have success. Each case is different. Each player is different. You never want to put everybody in the same box but the players that want to come to Houston, that want to be in Houston for a reason hopefully and our job is to go out there and find the players that want to be here and hopefully want to be a part of a successful program."
*Did you think you would have done things differently if you had been here earlier in the Deshaun Watson situation? *
"It's all about finding solutions. You take the information, and you can't change what happened. So, here's the information, here's the situation and nobody's going to make excuses. Nobody is going to bitch and moan about your situation and the circumstances. It's ok. Let's deal and real. Let's deal with it now. Let's identify the problems. Let's provide solutions and understand that we are going to have to find ways to fix it and make it work and if that doesn't work, then turn the page. I think you have to be very flexible. You've got to be able to pivot to something different. Maybe the way you thought it was originally going to go, it doesn't go that way, then you have to be able to adjust and adapt. I think that's the beauty of the challenge and I think every team deals with that. Every circumstance is different. Every situation is going to be different. Every team is going to have to deal with something and that's ok. I think that's where I would say there is some intrigue in that and really you want to try to put something together. You obviously have an idea in your mind of how you want that to look, and it might take a little bit longer than you thought but you can't erase or fix what has happened in the past. It's out of my hands, it's out of my control. We're not going to make excuses on what happened. There is a lot of good things that I would say have taken place in this organization and everyone is focusing on the things that have happened. There's been a lot of good things, a lot of good players here for a long time. Our job is to try and find solutions to take the next step and move the organization forward and that is my commitment to everybody in our building. That is my commitment to the fans and that is my commitment to the organization. That is my commitment to ownership and I'll be damned if I don't go down swinging."
*With the additional picks you got from Cleveland, is there extra urgency from you and your staff to hit on the picks especially when trying to match the value that Deshaun Watson brought to the organization? *
"It depends on how you define that. Really it's about just bringing good players into your program. We've talked about this previously, regardless of how good the player you think he is in college, they are all essentially starting from scratch. Once they walk in the building, they are back to ground zero. How quickly do thy assimilate to your program? How quickly can they get up to speed with what you're going to ask them to do on a football field? How well do they play? You're not going to force a player into a position where maybe he isn't ready for. We take a lot of pride in the work we put in. I would say our college scouting staff, those guys work hard all year. We've had a lot of good discussion. We've had a lot of good dialogue. Our job is to know as many players top to bottom and as we go to set the board here and position ourselves, accordingly, just try to pick good players that are going to fit the program that we are trying to build. Good players that give us a chance for success moving forward."
*When you look at getting rid of Deshaun Watson and moving on, does this give you more comfort to do what you want to do without this hanging over your head? *
"Again, it's about moving forward. We kind of know where we are here today. We know what the opportunity looks like in front of us. We are going to try to work hard. Honestly, it doesn't necessarily change. We are still going to take it one day at a time. Nothing is going to happened over night. We are not all of a sudden going to draft eight players all at once that are going to come in and do things on the field that nobody expected. Take it one day at a time. Try to have good processes in place. Try to do a good job here in free agency. If there is an opportunity to add players to our team that can help us. Try to do a good job in the draft. Try to do a good job in post draft free agency. Try to get our players ready for the off-season program. Have a good OTA. Take some time off in the summer. Come back in training camp ready to go with a sense of urgency with a heighted awareness that we have to go out there that we have to perform, and we have to play well. Whoever our first opponent is which I don't know. That will be the next discussion when the schedule comes out whoever we play. But whoever we play, we are going to be ready to go and it's going to come down to, do we go out there and play well enough to give ourselves the best chance to win on Sunday because in the end, that's what it's going to come down to. That's the only thing anybody is going to care about."
Can you talk about some of the players you resigned and new additions to the team?
"Let's start with our guys first. The guys that we brought back, guys like J.B. (Justin Britt), guys like Kirko (Christian Kirksey), guys like Desmond (King II), guys like Maliek Collins, those guys are experienced players, do a lot of good things for our program, have a presence about them and provide good leadership. I would say Jalen Reeves-Maybin is a player we actually identified last year in free agency. We tried to sign him and at the time it didn't work itself out. He's a player that has some of the traits and characteristics that fit our program. Specifically, guys like Maliek, guys like J.B., as we're going to onboard new players, a lot of young players, so having players like that who can provide that leadership, can provide that direction. Rex Burkhead, throw him into that category. When the players walk in to the building and say, 'What do we ask of a Houston Texan? What are the characteristics and behaviors that we want to embody?' When you look at those players, those are the things we want those rookies to see. You want those rookies to have some of the same qualities, but obviously this is all going to be new for them. I would say part of the team-building process is we added some of those players back to our team, and as we added new players to our team, as well."
After you had a threshold, was there a moment after that you thought you'd have Deshaun Watson here for another year? How aggressive will you be with the cap space you have now that the trade is done?
"You have to look at it this way. However many players we draft, let's call it 8-to-10 players, those players are probably going to cost on a cap 10-to-12 million dollars. If we're at 28, those guys are going to cost maybe 10-12, turns by the time they sign that contract, first-year cap hit. In season, your operating budget, you need to allocate about six-to-eight million for practice squad, injured reserve, those types of things. There's a decent chunk right there, 16-18 million that you want to make sure you have available. So, it doesn't preclude you from going out and adding a player. It might be at the expense of a player that's here currently. We're going to certainly be conscious and fairly fiscally responsible as we go through. We're not going to be haphazard. We want to be able to kind of work through the season, but if there's an opportunity that we think makes sense for us in a player to add to our team, then we're not going to bypass that. We'll come up with another solution. Once we get through the season, then looking ahead to next year, there's going to be a vast amount of cap space that's available. I'm sure everybody's expecting us in free agency to go out there and sign the highest-paid players, but we'll deal with that next year. But anyways, there's definitely a logical progression and a process that you want to be responsible, and ultimately that's something that I certainly have to be conscious of. That's kind of my responsibility to the organization and ownership."
Were there moments you were prepared to hold on to Deshaun Watson for another year?
"No, we were prepared to make the decision that was right for the organization, so that's why we went ahead and did what we did."
When will you know if this move was a success? How will you gauge that?
"That's not for me to judge. I think take it one year at a time, just take it one day at a time, and I'd say the big thing for us is we need to make progress. The most important thing is trying to make progress. How quickly is that progress going to take place? That's certainly irresponsible for me to make that projection, but I think we need to make progress, we've got to move in the right direction. Ultimately, if you don't do well enough, in the end there's going to be somebody else sitting in this chair. It's going to come down to how well we play on the field. How quickly is that going to take place? There's always a lot of variables and factors that go into that. I'm definitely excited about what we have in front of us, excited about the opportunity to work with Lovie (Smith) and the staff, excited about the team once we put that together here. Try to take it one day at a time, try not to have many unreasonable expectations, but ultimately the goal is to win and try to have success on the field. The quicker we get there, probably the better for everybody involved. I think that's what everybody wants to hear. I'm not very good when it comes to gambling. I think I've been to Vegas one time, and I won't even go to the slot machines, so you're asking the wrong person when it comes to that."
You got a plethora of draft picks. What part of the 'store' are you going to start shopping at?
"I don't think there's any one particular formula. I would say how we've handled it is once we kind of set the board, this is more of kind of a draft discussion. We go through it vertically and kind of position the players accordingly. It's value of the player relative to what we think the role is going to be. Realistically, the grade that we assign to that player, you're probably saying by the second year, 'Here's what we think it's going to be.' Let's say you think, 'Okay, No. 62 is a third tackle or swing tackle with potential to be a starter. If you evaluate that player, when you draft him, wherever you draft him, the expectation is going to be able to perform at that level, wherever that is, hopefully by the second year. Stack the board vertically, put the players accordingly, and then we'll work horizontally and we'll go across positions and say, 'Okay, what player makes the most sense when we have the opportunity to pick?' Then when it comes to moving up and down the board, then it's based on supply and demand of the position that's actually available. If you move back a player, let's say you really like a player that you're set to pick at wherever, let's just say No. 3. If you feel that's the right thing to do and that makes the most sense, you go ahead and pick. If you're going to move back, how far do you move back? That's at the cost of how many other players are we going to use. It's not necessarily about specific players, it's just about finding the right fit for what we're trying to do. I know I didn't really answer your question, but hopefully that kind of gives you (something) philosophically."
Will you move down from the third pick to acquire some more picks?
"We'll look at everything. Again, it goes back to what are you moving away from and what would you get in return. Even though we did a trade yesterday, the thought process isn't necessarily any different when you get into the draft. What's the cost associated with that trade? What are you actually going to get in return? Does it make sense for where you are at the present time? If it does, go ahead and do it, if it doesn't go ahead and pick. You always have to be prepared to pick a player regardless of position. We'll be ready to pick a player whenever that is."
Have you gotten a chance to talk to Deshaun Watson since the trade happened?
"We've had some communication. I shot him a text, just wish him well. He'll probably do good things for the city of Cleveland. It's kind of ironic he's going to the place where I grew up, but he's a great player. He'll do a lot of great things for the city. I certainly wish him well in his future endeavors."
With so many NFC teams that wanted him, what made you decide to deal him to an AFC team that you could potentially face in the playoffs?
"Ultimately, whatever you feel is the right decision for the organization at that present time, that's what you have to go ahead and do. That's why we did what we did."
In terms of the roster you have now, what is a fan's incentive to see this year's team if there's not a main star player to put on the cover of the ticket package?
"I'm not worried about the ticket package. I am, but I'm not. I think this is what's important, everybody wants to make it about one person, one player, one particular thing, and that's important. But the most important thing is having a good team. It's about having good players, having a good team, and then the team is what the fans are going to respond to. Do you have a good team? Can you go out there and support the team? I would say just philosophically, my belief is about having a good team, not trying to make it about one individual. Do you need good players? Absolutely, there's no question you need good players and you want players that have a connection with the fans and the fans can root for. That's why they come, they come to cheer, they come to support, they want to see us do well. Trying not to make it about one player. It's going to take time. Nothing's going to happen overnight. This isn't about one player, about one draft, it's not about one particular thing. It's going to be an accumulation of things over time, and if we do enough of the right things then hopefully we put ourselves in a position where we have a product on the field that the city of Houston can be proud of."
After this trade, do you think the NFL could be trending like the NBA where a star player can choose his destination?
"I don't think it's an apples to apples comparison. I think every situation is going to be a little bit different. What happens in one sport, in one particular area, does that have relevance to another sport? That's a hard question to answer, so that's probably more something for you guys to talk about on the radio than for me to worry about. I'm just going to try to run the football team to the best of my ability on a day to day basis."