AFC East: Nick Caserio

NFL combine: What we'll be watching

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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The on-field workouts at the 2014 NFL scouting combine begin Saturday, Feb. 22, but Wednesday marks the first day players will begin to arrive in Indianapolis as they embark upon a critical step in the pre-draft process.

We won’t be far behind them, as ESPNBoston.com is scheduled to touch down in Indy Wednesday evening.

With the event looming, here’s the rundown of what we’re hoping to learn this year.

1. Who measures up? Ultimately, the combine is known most for the physical testing and drills that will take place from the 22nd to the 25th. We’ll keep a close eye on standout performers, players who struggle, fast risers, fast fallers, and anything else in between. The combine is just a part of the process in evaluating draft prospects, but it can provide extremely important information. One area that the New England Patriots were able to reinforce about top choice Jamie Collins last year was his explosiveness. He set the record for best broad jump in combine history at 11 feet 7 inches.

Ebron
2. Targeting tight ends. Things can change before the draft (free agency plays a big part in this), but our current feeling is tight end is the Patriots' biggest positional need. This year’s crop of tight ends is considered deep and talented, with North Carolina’s Eric Ebron leading the way, followed by Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro. Meeting and learning more about the prospects at the position is a top priority for us.

3. Offseason update. Teams are not required to, but nearly every NFL team provides either its head coach or general manager for a question-and-answer period in the media room during the combine. The Patriots announced that they won't be talking, but in case that changes, it’ll be interesting to hear what either Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio say about the team’s current state.

4. League-wide Patriots perception. Even if Belichick and Caserio don't speak, we’ll pick the brain of the available personnel for their take on areas that the Patriots can improve upon and other franchise-related thoughts.

5. Game of tag? Speaking of franchise, the combine falls in the middle of the current franchise-tag window, and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on any possible movement on that front, both for the Patriots and around the league.

6. Quarterback crop. Quarterback obviously isn’t a top need for the Patriots, though Ryan Mallett does enter the final year of his contract this season. But the position typically headlines the event, with several prominent prospects this year. We’ll look forward to hearing from some of the top players such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, and also to see which players opt to throw at the combine.

7. Other notable prospects. During last year’s combine, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o drew what some believed was the largest audience for a player interview in combine history. There are prospects this year who are expected to draw robust crowds, with Manziel and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam topping the list. Sam recently announced he is gay.

8. Players with local ties. We'll aim to track down some of the local area players, as there is a host of combine invitees from New England schools, as well as four players who hail from Massachusetts.

9. Expecting the unexpected. You never know what is going to happen at the combine, which is one reason it’s a particularly unique event. On our way to Lucas Oil Stadium during the first day of the event last year, team ESPNBoston.com crossed paths with former Patriots long-snapper Lonie Paxton, who was in town to promote a product line. We’re counting on more of the same unexpectedness this year.

MIAMI -- There is something terribly wrong with the Miami Dolphins. Their process of finding someone -- anyone -- to become their next general manager should open some eyes within the organization that something internally must change.

After a long and arduous process, the Dolphins hired Dennis Hickey on Sunday to become their next general manager. Hickey replaces the embattled Jeff Ireland, who parted ways with the team after six seasons.

But today is not about Hickey as much as it is about the Dolphins’ questionable internal structure. This is not a media creation. Multiple candidates legitimately ran away from the chance to be GM of the Dolphins. It’s clear that people around the NFL are not buying how Miami wants to run its franchise.

In the past 24 hours, Nick Caserio of the New England Patriots and Lake Dawson of the Tennessee Titans, in order, were offered the job and turned it down for smaller roles with their current teams. Ray Farmer of the Cleveland Browns, an early favorite, took his name out of consideration Thursday night when he was closing in on the gig. At least four other high-profile candidates declined the opportunity for an interview to even hear what the Dolphins have to say.

Many didn’t believe the job the Dolphins were offering was a true GM position. Hickey has no power beyond the 53-man roster. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross didn’t want the GM to be above coach Joe Philbin and vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte. All three will start on equal footing and answer directly to the owner, which can create an atmosphere where factions develop and sniping can occur. That’s pretty much the story of Miami’s 2013 season between Ireland, Philbin and Aponte.

But Hickey is willing to take the plunge and must mesh with Philbin and Aponte. The Dolphins may try to put a good face on the situation and say Hickey was their top choice all along. Yet it’s clear Hickey was not Miami’s first, second or third choice. Hickey probably wasn’t in the top seven when Miami’s brass created its initial list. But he was the first person willing to take the job.

On paper, the Dolphins’ GM position should have been a quality opening.

The Dolphins are not a rebuilding project. This is an 8-8 team with a promising young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, four Pro Bowlers and solid cap room entering the offseason. A few good roster improvements here and there and Miami could be in playoff contention in 2014.

But the internal workings and behind-the-scenes drama in Miami made its GM position significantly less attractive. The Dolphins must look in the mirror, re-examine themselves and figure out if this is the smartest way to do business moving forward.
When the Indianapolis Colts requested permission to interview New England Patriots vice president of player personnel Nick Caserio for their general manager opening in January of 2012, Caserio didn't pursue the opportunity.

"I have a great job here in New England, I work with a great staff, privileged to work for the head coach that I do," Caserio said at the time. "Today is no different than it was any other day. ... I love New England. I enjoy being here. I enjoy the work that I do, the people that I work with. That's not going to change."

Two years later, has it changed?

That was the first question that came to mind after ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted today that Caserio was interviewing for the Miami Dolphins' general manager job.

In the end, I'd be surprised if Caserio accepted the job in Miami should it be offered to him.

The main reason is that his task would be to build a team to dethrone the division rival he's helped build in New England, which is led by the person who gave him his start in the NFL. Caserio seems like he's too loyal to Bill Belichick for that to happen, even if the financial reward was such that it was difficult to turn down.

So if that's the case, why even interview?

A few thoughts along those lines:

It gives him a chance to develop a connection with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, similar to what Josh McDaniels just went through by interviewing with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam for Cleveland's head coaching job. Caserio and McDaniels have long careers ahead of them, and the chance to develop those connections is valuable.

Another benefit for Caserio is that it would smash the perception he wouldn't leave should another opportunity arise in the future. It also could help improve his current standing in New England.

Those are some initial thoughts on news that came as a surprise today.
The Miami Dolphins lost one of their top choices Thursday when Cleveland Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer backed out due to concerns about the team’s structure.

But according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Miami has moved on to interview New England Patriots Director of Pro Personnel Nick Caserio. Although Caserio doesn’t have final say, he works closely with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

The biggest thing this tells me is the Dolphins are not satisfied with their current list of finalists. Miami recently paired down its list to Farmer, who backed out, Dennis Hickey of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami assistant GM Brian Gaine. It’s not a deep or impressive list, and it appears the Dolphins may be willing to wait to see if there are bigger names out there.

Caserio is now the biggest name in this group. But you have to wonder if he would leave a stable job in New England as Belichick’s right-hand man for Miami. The Dolphins told prior candidates that the GM is not the boss over coach Joe Philbin or vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte. All three would be on equal footing.

It's unknown if Miami would be willing to change that way of thinking to lure Caserio. The Dolphins don’t have a lot of time left to figure out this GM situation with the NFL scouting combine looming (Feb. 19-25).

AFC East free-agency primer

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
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» NFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Buffalo Bills
GENERAL MANAGER: Buddy Nix
HEAD COACH: Doug Marrone

Cap Status: The Bills do not have a ton of cap space compared to last year. But they have some flexibility and can still make a run at several players. Buffalo recently re-signed cornerback Leodis McKelvin and placed the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd, and those contracts will somewhat limit what the team can do this week. The Bills were among the biggest players in free agency in 2012 and spent a large chunk of their cap on $100 million defensive end Mario Williams.

Strategy: The Bills are very much a team in transition. They have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and potentially a new quarterback. Buffalo most likely will not look to free agency to find another quarterback. The Bills already have two veterans on the roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding a drafted rookie to the group makes more sense. Expect Buffalo to use its free-agent dollars at linebacker and wide receiver. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is installing a 3-4 scheme in Buffalo that relies heavily on solid, tough linebacker play. The Bills were 31st in run defense last year and the linebackers were pushed around too often. Buffalo also needs a No. 2 receiver to pair with Steve Johnson. The Bills let receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones walk in free agency and lack depth at the position. Buffalo continues to negotiate with starting guard Andy Levitre, but he could get interest from several teams in free agency and create a bidding war.

Miami Dolphins
GENERAL MANAGER: Jeff Ireland
HEAD COACH: Joe Philbin

Cap Status: The Dolphins have the most cap room in the AFC East. They began the offseason with more than $40 million available. However, recent signings of three in-house players -- receiver Brian Hartline, quarterback Matt Moore and defensive tackle Randy Starks -- have reduced that number.

Strategy: Miami still has plenty of room to make a splash this week. The Dolphins are the favorite to land former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who could command about $12 million per season. The speedy Wallace could be the missing piece to a Dolphins passing game ranked 26th in the NFL last season. Miami also needs to address its situation at cornerback, tight end, safety and left tackle. The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long. That leaves a big hole to fill at left tackle. The Dolphins could play 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin on the left side if they cannot find a better option in free agency. No. 1 cornerback and free agent Sean Smith also could leave Miami, which would create another major hole. Keep in mind the Dolphins also have nine draft picks, including five in the first three rounds. Whatever holes they cannot plug in free agency will be addressed in April's draft.

New England Patriots
GENERAL MANAGER*: Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio
HEAD COACH: Bill Belichick

Cap Status: The Patriots are in decent shape. Quarterback Tom Brady recently provided a big assist by signing a three-year, $27 million contract extension. The move reportedly freed up an additional $15 million in cap room over the next two years to keep New England in position to contend.

Strategy: The Patriots will not be the biggest players in free agency, but they have enough room to go after a few desired targets. Definitely keep an eye on New England's secondary. The Patriots need help at both cornerback and safety. They have already been linked to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has a desire to stay with a contender. Belichick has an immense respect for Reed and the way he plays the game. New England also must address its in-house free agents, such as receiver Wes Welker, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and corner Aqib Talib. The Patriots do not get sentimental with their own players and are not afraid to let them test the market. New England runs the risk of losing all three players. But the Patriots refuse to overpay and are prepared to go to Plan B and Plan C for each scenario.

* The Patriots do not have a general manager by title, but Belichick has the final say on all personnel matters in New England. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio shares some of the GM duties with Belichick.

New York Jets
GENERAL MANAGER: John Idzik
HEAD COACH: Rex Ryan

Cap Status: The Jets have a very tight cap. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum significantly mismanaged the roster the past couple of seasons by overpaying veterans and poorly restructuring contracts. This is the year the Jets pay for those mistakes.

Strategy: The Jets have a lot of needs but few resources to work with. The team already cut veterans Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Eric Smith just to get under the cap. New York is not expected to re-sign Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene and starting tight end Dustin Keller because they will be too expensive. Idzik says he will field a competitive team in his first year, but that's an extremely tough task. The Jets have no choice but to look for bargain-bin options in free agency. New York's biggest needs are on offense. The Jets need help at quarterback but can afford only cheap options like David Garrard. They also need to add talented skill players at wide receiver, tight end and running back to support the quarterback. Don't expect the Jets to make much noise in free agency. New York's best option to improve this year is through the draft.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offensive linemen are dropping like flies around New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder.

Veteran free agent Robert Gallery retired over the weekend. So did Matt Light. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) is on the physically unable to perform list, and fellow guard Brian Waters' playing status is still to be determined. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also is dealing with a back injury, leaving Solder as one of the few starting and healthy linemen from February's Super Bowl team.

[+] EnlargeNate Solder
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaNate Solder is being counted on to take a bigger role this season.
"I think it's a team effort, and I’m just one of the parts to that," Solder said Monday after practice. "It takes all five of the O-lineman. It takes all of the wide receivers and everyone working together. We’re going to play whoever is here, and whatever happens, we’re going to be here working hard."

Solder entered the offseason as a young, budding left tackle. Now, he's being relied upon in training camp as though he's one of the veterans.

Solder has one of the most important responsibilities on the team protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. But you wouldn’t know it from Solder's mentality. He is calm and low key. Solder says he's taken this important second season day by day, which is exactly how the Patriots like their players to think.

All indications are that Solder has been the most consistent lineman in training camp. Part of it is due to injuries to veterans. But the second-year tackle also is meeting -- and perhaps exceeding -- expectations as a 2011 first-round pick.

"We thought Nate was a good football player when we drafted him,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. "He’s come in and had a decent first year. And the most important thing with any player is you try to improve on a day-to-day basis and become a more consistent player."

Solder isn't backing down in training camp. He got into a big scuffle in practice last week with Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. When we asked about it Monday, Solder chuckled and said, "We're moving on."

Solder has a lot to look forward to. It began the day Light announced his retirement. That catapulted Solder into the starting left tackle role full time in just his second season. The Patriots are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and Solder has a big responsibility in that.

"My reaction [to Light retiring] was it's time for me to get better and work harder," Solder said. "I want to contribute to this team anyway I can. I feel blessed with my opportunities here and it’s worked out phenomenally. But it's up to me to really step up and play well."

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
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» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Buffalo Bills

This will be the second draft for general manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Chan Gailey. Vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak is back for his 11th draft. Bills founder Ralph Wilson has been known to get involved on draft day, but Gailey recently said he hasn't seen the Hall of Fame owner meddle. "He is the boss," Gailey said. "He has all influence, every bit of influence. He says 'Take this guy,' we take him. But he's smart enough not to do that. He hired people to do a job. He lets them do their job. He's letting us do our job. That's what I've seen."

Miami Dolphins

For the first time since general manager Jeff Ireland joined the club in 2008, he will run the show without Bill Parcells watching over his shoulder. Parcells stepped away from the Dolphins a few days before the 2010 season opener, leaving his hand-picked GM at the controls. Head coach Tony Sparano also would appear to have a bigger voice with his contract extension. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made the move to make amends after an embarrassing flirtation with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.

New England Patriots

Bill Belichick is entering his 12th draft with New England. He remains in control of every personnel move and hasn't missed without Scott Pioli, who departed for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. Belichick receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. The Patriots' draft room must be a sight to behold. On the first two days of last year's draft, they made a series of trades in which they acquired 10 picks (including a 2011 second-rounder) with an average value of the 69th pick and peddled eight picks with an average value of the 85th pick. So these minds somehow accumulated more picks and higher in the order.

New York Jets

General manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan enter their third draft together. Top college scout Joey Clinkscales is highly respected in the business, but Ryan has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris.

Combine media schedule for AFC East folks

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It'll be a busy and informative day on the AFC East blog.

Here is Thursday's media schedule for AFC East coaches and executives here at the NFL scouting combine.

My intention is to post bullet points shortly after each news conference and then follow up later with more in-depth blogs on the most interesting issues raised.
  • 10 a.m.: Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey
  • 10:45 a.m.: Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland
  • 3:30 p.m.: New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan
  • 3:45 p.m.: New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum

Bills general manager Buddy Nix is expected to talk to reporters Thursday in a less formal setting.

Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano will not speak at all during the combine.

The New England Patriots have told the NFL they will not make head coach Bill Belichick or player personnel director Nick Caserio available to the media. But two years ago, Belichick made an impromptu appearance on the podium.

Double Coverage: Pats vs. Colts in 2015

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
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Colts and PatriotsESPN.com IllustrationPeyton Manning and Tom Brady have been at the center of arguably the best rivalry of the past decade. Who will carry it on when they step away from the game?
The annual AFC showdown is upon us, and with it come the recurring storylines.

That's right, the Indianapolis Colts will meet the New England Patriots on Sunday for an eighth straight season. The NFL's greatest ongoing interdivisional rivalry showcases two of the great organizations of this generation and renews the discussion about Peyton Manning's stats versus Tom Brady's championships.

We've decided to rekindle the debate, but before you throw your head back and groan in anticipation of the clichés, hold your horseshoes.

The purpose of this debate is to eliminate Manning and Brady and look into the future.

Which team has the better long-range outlook once Manning and Brady move on?

For the purpose of this discussion, we've set the target for 2015 -- one year beyond the length of Brady's latest contract extension -- to examine which team has the better infrastructure to cope with life minus its iconic quarterback.

Tim Graham: Time to get after it, Paul. But no weapons this time, please. I've just recently completed the physical therapy from our last debate.

Paul Kuharsky: Well, this back-and-forth will be less physically taxing, and since there is so much forecasting, you may actually be able to put your Jedi training to use.

Graham: Get this debate started we shall, hmmm?

Kuharsky: So what do the Colts and Patriots have now that's going to be a big factor for them in five years?

Jerry Hughes
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes develop into a cornerstone on the Colts' defense?
I count eight guys who are in their first, second or third year with the franchise who I expect will still be prime contributors in 2015. But only three of the eight fit into the framework of the four most important positions on the field -- quarterback, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback. Those players would be corners Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey and defensive end Jerry Hughes.

Hughes is still unproven, but it's early and Colts president Bill Polian saw the potential for him to ultimately replace a Dwight Freeney or a Robert Mathis.

Others who may still be staples when Manning is gone: receiver Austin Collie, linebacker Pat Angerer, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Brody Eldridge and punter Pat McAfee. Can that group be the core of a team that continues to win? I wish I could offer a solid yes or no instead of a tepid maybe.

Beyond that, we've got five drafts to consider, right? And Polian regularly finds undrafted gems. I don't doubt the Colts will have talent. But they'll need new Freeney-, Dallas Clark- and Reggie Wayne-caliber stars, plus the replacement quarterback.

Graham: Patriots overlord Bill Belichick has drawn deserved criticism for his draft failures. He has swung and missed at his share of Terrence Wheatleys and Kevin O'Connells and Chad Jacksons in the early rounds.

But when you accumulate as many picks as the Patriots have and have elite football minds evaluating the talent, those bad decisions are going to even out eventually. The Patriots appear to be warming up when it comes to successful drafting.

[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Paul Spinelli Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez ranks second on the Patriots in catches and receiving yards.
The Patriots went into Heinz Field and manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers with four rookies in their starting defensive lineup (defensive end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and left cornerback Devin McCourty) and a rookie tight end (Rob Gronkowski), who caught three touchdowns. Another rookie tight end (Aaron Hernandez) ranks second on the team in catches and receiving yards. Their punter is a rookie.

They don't have as many second- and third-year contributors, but inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was defensive rookie of the year in 2008. Among the sophomores are starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receivers Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman, who also handle return duties.

Without question, there will be a drop-off at quarterback when Brady retires, but the Patriots are loaded with core youth.

Kuharsky: The Colts may draft better, but they also draft less. Polian's not the draft pick wheeler-and-dealer Belichick is. Are those the guys who will be lining up the Manning and Brady successors?

It's a quarterback-driven league, and teams minus Manning and Brady will have major voids. We've got to talk about the replacements for the iconic quarterbacks, but it's hard to offer much conjecture on what kind of guy that will be without talking about who will be finding him.

Polian is 67 years old, and the last time I asked him about any sort of plan for retirement he gave me a head tilt and an uncomfortable expression.

Graham: I've noticed a lot of people do that around you.

Kuharsky: If things are neat and tidy, the suspicion is he and Manning -- the guy he hit the jackpot with when he picked him over Ryan Leaf -- will exit together. The next generation is waiting in the wings. Chris Polian is Indianapolis' vice president and general manager.

Chris Polian
AP PhotoCurrent Colts VP Chris Polian is likely play a key role in finding Peyton Manning's successor.
I'd expect Bill Polian will have a strong hand in selecting the Colts' quarterback of the future. But it will ultimately be Chris Polian who's connected to that signal-caller the way Bill Polian is connected to Manning. The younger Polian has a good reputation and good football genes, but it's hard to know how much of his father's personnel judgment he's inherited and how much he's learned. And having to replace a guy many will argue is the greatest quarterback of all time will be an awfully difficult assignment.

Graham: I don't know how long Belichick plans to coach, but even if he were to get tired of the week-to-week grind of getting his boys ready to play, it's fathomable he'll stick around to run the operation, handpicking his successor and overseeing football operations.

It would be silly to give Belichick more than a smidgen of credit for drafting Brady in the sixth round a decade ago. If Belichick truly knew what Brady was capable of, the Patriots wouldn't have passed on him until the 199th pick. So it's not like Belichick will simply wait until Brady's on the verge of retirement and automatically snag a replacement.

Kuharsky: True. But they knew more than everybody else when they finally did take him.

Graham: Belichick trusted his scout, and they unearthed a gem.

I believe Belichick's support staff is stronger than Polian's. Senior adviser Floyd Reese oversaw the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans' drafts when they picked Steve McNair and Vince Young. Player personnel director Nick Caserio, like a lot of Belichick's sidekicks over the years, will develop the tools to run his own show someday.

Kuharsky: I don't know that Belichick's got better support. It's just more well known and visible support.

Graham: And a high-profile owner who is willing to trust his front office, will spend money and doesn't dare meddle. That's another key component to New England's success over the past decade.

Kuharsky: Moving onto the replacement quarterback himself, Curtis Painter is Manning's current backup. But based on his work in a couple of regular-season games the team didn't care about winning at the end of last season and some preseason work, most people aren't forecasting anything special from him. And that would amount to quite a lengthy apprenticeship anyway.

Graham: You wouldn't think the Patriots have Brady's successor on the roster either. Brian Hoyer is an undrafted sophomore with virtually no experience so far. But you never can tell how these guys will develop while working alongside Brady for a few years. This is the team that identified Matt Cassel, a seventh-round draft choice who hadn't started a game since high school, as its top backup for 2008. He ended up going 11-5 when Brady blew out his knee.

Kuharsky: The Colts will need a guy for a super-tough replacement job. It would be awfully difficult for them to land in a Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre or Michael Vick for Donovan McNabb replacement situation.

After hitting a grand slam with the No. 1 pick in 1998, odds would suggest that it will be tough for them to line up with the right guy at the right pick at the right time. The way they build, odds are Manning's heir will be a guy who plays a full college career. So he's a college freshman or a high-school senior right now, depending on their plan for easing him in.

Graham: The Colts and Patriots finish too high in the standings every year and don't get to pick until the 20s. That will make it nearly impossible to snag some golden-armed top prospect in their assigned draft positions. But the Patriots frequently go into drafts with other teams' picks -- and an abundance of them. They often have copious draft assets to move up if they want to. Or maybe the Patriots will obtain that big-ticket pick waaaaay in advance. A year ago, Belichick traded Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for their 2011 first-round selection. That's the kind of creative investing that could pay off with a high-quality quarterback prospect down the road.

Kuharsky: It will definitely be more difficult for the Colts to get to the top of a draft to get a premier guy. And there may need to be a post-Manning down-cycle for the team to get up there and find the guy. Scribes in Indianapolis often wonder aloud what happens to the Colts' crazed support if they turn into a 5-11 rebuilding project. The rest of the AFC South certainly hopes that's how it works, and that the division is a lot more wide open once Manning's not in it.

And while we're forecasting five years out, I have two questions: Will Manning still be a deadpanning TV commercial superstar? And will Brady have had a haircut?

Graham: There's one unwavering prediction I can make about hair, Paul, but it's not about Brady's.

Patriots diplomatic about Moss comments

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
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Before star receiver Randy Moss declared dissatisfaction with how the New England Patriots were treating him, head coach Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio, and quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien had been scheduled for Tuesday conference calls.

As you might expect, each was asked about the comments Moss made Monday, saying he felt unappreciated because he has only one year left on his contract and wants an extension. Each offered praise.

Belichick: "I would just say on Randy that he is a professional. He's had a good training camp. He's played very well since he's been here. He's played at a very high level, and I hope that continues. He's brought a lot of passion to the game -- for the game -- since he's been here. He's well liked and he's well respected on the team."

Caserio, who used to be the Patriots' receivers coach: "My experience with Randy has been nothing but positive. From a football standpoint, he's a very smart football player. He's seen just about everything, every coverage in the book, and he understands football. He understands what we're trying to do. He understands what other teams are trying to do. He's good with his teammates. He's very insightful."

O'Brien: "He's never said anything like that to me. Since the day he's walked in here, he's been a productive, excellent player for us and a very professional player. I feel really good about our relationship with Randy, and that's how I feel. ... Until he says otherwise to me, I feel that way about him. I’m glad he’s here, and I’m glad he’s a part of our team. And he’s a big part of our team."

With all of that considered, the Patriots dodged questions about a contract extension. Moss is coming off a great season of 83 receptions for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. Yet he will be 34 next year.

"We're glad he's here from the game on Sunday and that's what we're worried about," Caserio said. "He's going to help our football team, I'm sure. That's what we're focused on right now."

Extra kickers find no quarter in AFC East

August, 11, 2010
8/11/10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There's a movement afoot.

One kicker, one punter. No need to bring anybody else to training camp.

It used to be common for teams to have extra kickers even if they knew who would win the jobs. Competition kept the regulars sharp and made sure their legs didn't get worn out by special-teams drills.

But none of the four AFC East teams has brought in another kicker, and only one has two punters on its 80-man roster.

Steve Weatherford and T.J. Conley are taking turns at punter for the New York Jets. Their kicker, Nick Folk, might be the most disturbing case of all, but he's alone on the depth chart.

The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots have their two swinging legs, and they're sticking to them in camp.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said Tuesday some teams don't want to waste a spot on the 80-man camp roster.

"It's probably a combination of just managing the roster," Caserio said, "keeping that roster spot available in the event that there is another position player or somebody else out there that you want to add to your club."

If a kicker or punter is occupying a spot, then there's less room to accommodate a banged-up player or a more important position where competition is needed. There also are cases like unsigned guard Logan Mankins, who hasn't reported to camp but is on the roster.

But the Patriots have seen some shakiness in camp the past couple of days. Stephen Gostkowski, an All-Pro kicker two seasons ago, appears to have a hook in his attempts lately and has been missing more than his fair share. Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko has a booming leg, but has shown he's erratic. Every third or fourth punt looks like a wobbler or a shank.

I asked Caserio about extra legs in camp keeping the regulars honest.

"They have to go out there and perform," Caserio said. "We're going to evaluate it on a day-to-day basis, and if there is a point in time where we say 'OK, we feel we need to have somebody else in here or bring somebody else into the mix,' then we'll go ahead and do that.

"Nobody is guaranteed anything. Obviously, their performance is going to speak volumes about whatever position they play. We evaluate that like we do any position on a day-to-day basis and we will continue to do that."

Will Torry Holt make Patriots roster?

August, 10, 2010
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In sweatpants and a winter skullcap, New England Patriots receiver Torry Holt watched Tuesday morning's practice against the New Orleans Saints.

He missed Monday's practice, too, for undisclosed reasons.

Holt also might be looking in from afar when it comes to New England's final roster.

Holt
On the all-time leaderboard, Holt's 920 receptions rank 11th, and his 13,382 yards rank 10th. But the most significant number to him over the next month will be how many receivers the Patriots choose to keep.

Holt seems to rank sixth -- at best.

"However many we feel is best for the club," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio replied when I asked how many receiver slots were available. "We've kept five. We've kept seven. It all depends."

Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are back. Brandon Tate was a third-round draft choice last year. Injuries wiped out most of Tate's rookie season, but he has elicited praise from Tom Brady over the offseason. Taylor Price was a third-round pick in April.

Those are five receivers right there. When you consider keeping a sixth or seventh, he better add something beyond his listed position. Sam Aiken, for example, made 11 tackles and forced a fumble on special teams last year.

"You look at your club and you figure out the offensive or defensive component and then a special teams component," Caserio said. "The receivers are competing with the secondary players or the linebackers for a particular spot. We talk about 'the more you can do,' and that's important."

Holt doesn't play special teams, but the seven-time Pro Bowler can add leadership and be a mentor for the young receivers. Whether that's enough to make the cut is the issue.

The Patriots tried to make it work with faded veteran Joey Galloway last year, but cut him a few weeks into the season because it was a disaster. Holt's coming off career-lows with 51 receptions and 722 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He's got a lot of experience," said Caserio, a former receivers coach for the Patriots. "He hasn't been out there for a few days, but he's smart. He's a very instinctive receiver. He has good hands. He's a good route runner. When he's been out there, when he's had his opportunities, he's made some plays.

"I think his value comes into play off the field as well. He does a nice job working with our younger receivers. Torry's been a really productive player in this league. He's done things on the field that are good and behind the scenes, some of the things that you don't see, I think he's been invaluable from that perspective."

Patriots lift Wes Welker from PUP list

August, 1, 2010
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The New England Patriots removed slot receiver Wes Welker from the physically unable-to-perform list.

Director of player personnel Nick Caserio announced Sunday morning that Welker had passed his physical test and would practice right away.

The transaction was expected to occur within the first week of training camp (the Patriots began Thursday), but it's another step in what has been an uncommonly fast recovery from a blown out knee seven months ago.

"He's committed to football," Caserio said of Welker. "I think every player has to go at their own pace. I think Wes is a unique guy. There's no question about it.

"He has been a productive player. But he realizes that he has to go out there and prove himself once again, regardless of what has happened in the past, just like any player. Wes works hard. He's got a good skill set. He does the right things, and I think it's a tribute to him and his work ethic and his competitiveness and his toughness to get back on the field."

Draft Watch: AFC East

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
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» NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: The decision-makers.

Buffalo Bills

Several key members of the Bills' front office will be in unfamiliar roles for the draft. Rookie general manager Buddy Nix has been a consigliere for decades, but he has never overseen a draft. Assistant general manager Doug Whaley will be in Buffalo's war room for the first time after handling pro personnel for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chan Gailey hasn't gone into a draft as the head coach for 11 years. The most prominent holdover is vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak. The Bills fired pro personnel chief John Guy after last season.

Miami Dolphins

This will be the third Dolphins draft for football operations boss Bill Parcells, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano. There's little doubt whose voice is most authoritative in the command center. Parcells handpicked Ireland and Sparano. Each is beholden to him. But that doesn't mean they're "yes" men. One of the qualities Parcells values most from his support staff is the ability to proffer a dissenting opinion. With that in mind, it's interesting Miami's director of college scouting is Chris Grier, son of former Patriots and Texans executive Bobby Grier. Parcells eventually left the Patriots after a disagreement with Bobby Grier about drafting receiver Terry Glenn. Parcells didn't want Glenn. Grier did. Patriots owner Robert Kraft sided with Grier, instigating Parcells' infamous "buy the groceries" lament.

New England Patriots

Patriots overlord Bill Belichick is entering his second draft without right-hand man Scott Pioli, who is now running the show in Kansas City. Belichick manages every personnel move within the organization. He receives help from senior football adviser Floyd Reese (the former Tennessee Titans general manager) and director of player personnel Nick Caserio, but Belichick has the first, second and final say. We've already noted Kraft reserves the right to get involved. But he won't go against a coach who has brought him three Lombardi trophies.

New York Jets

Parcells protégé Mike Tannenbaum is entering his fifth draft as general manager and his second with Rex Ryan. The opinionated coach has considerable say on whom the team selects, especially when it comes to defensive players. Tannenbaum isn't afraid to make moves on the fly, executing several trades to move up and select key players: quarterback Mark Sanchez, running back Shonn Greene, tight end Dustin Keller, cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebacker David Harris. Tannenbaum and Ryan lean on top college scout Joey Clinkscales, who interviewed to be Dolphins general manager before Ireland got the gig.

Patriots budgeting out their offseason

February, 26, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It was fitting that Nick Caserio, on the lookout for a remote place to speak with reporters Friday on the Lucas Oil Stadium concourse, gravitated to an ATM alcove.

The New England Patriots' player personnel director occasionally leaned on the cash machine while discussing Vince Wilfork's contract status, negotiations with unrestricted free agents and ramifications of an uncapped year.

Caserio didn't deliver much news, but he spoke at length about issues facing the Patriots. And you have to admire the man's ability to speak into a microphone for 20 minutes and not reveal anything.

He did say the Patriots will be operating within a self-imposed budget during an uncapped season. But who knows how fat that budget will be? The Patriots are one of the league's wealthier clubs.

"In terms of our process, we go through the same process this year as we did in years past," Caserio said. "We have a budget in place like we do every year. It doesn't really change for us in terms of what we do in terms of spending and player acquisition.

"As far as what the situation is moving forward, I mean, I don't have a crystal ball. You don't have a crystal ball. We're operating under the terms that we have in place and that haven't really changed all that much since I've been here."

For effect, Caserio could've whipped an ATM card from his back pocket, swiped it through the machine and got Julius Peppers' agent on the phone to ask how much the Patriots should withdraw. Unfortunately for the gathered reporters, Caserio declined to give us a story.

He also declined to give any meaningful updates on negotiations with Wilfork for a long-term deal, only saying "the communication has been good. It's been ongoing." He declined to put a timetable on when a contract might be finalized.

Caserio touched on New England's other unrestricted free agents and how much communication there's been from him or senior advisor Floyd Reese. Their UFA group most notably includes running back Kevin Faulk, outside linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess and cornerback Leigh Bodden.

"I think you have levels of communication with all your free agents," Caserio said. "You are at different stages. Obviously, all the agents are here [at the combine]. So I would say there is continuous communication amongst all parties. Obviously once we get into free agency [March 5], it goes a little bit further."

On the recent re-signing of receiver David Patten, Caserio said the Patriots aren't living in the past.

"David has been great for us," Caserio said. "He’s great off the field. He has an unquestionable work ethic. So we want competitive, tough-minded, hungry football players looking for an opportunity, and I think David Patten kind of falls into that category.

"He has to come and earn his role on the team. Here is an opportunity for him, and whatever he makes of it, that’s entirely up to him, but we’re certainly happy to have him."

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