Nick Caserio, George Paton among NFL GMs on the hot seat


The NFL general manager carousel never gets as much attention as the league’s seemingly constant coaching churn.

In general, there is less GM turnover from year-to-year — it helps your job security when you watch games from the suite, sitting next to the owner, and can point out everyone else’s flaws — and NFL general managers usually have a far lower profile than head coaches. But some change is inevitable, and, undoubtedly, there will be moves made in those ranks in the next offseason. Firing a GM in-season — as the Tennessee Titans shockingly did with Jon Robinson this week — can be complicated, with preparations for free agency and the draft already underway. Those moves typically come after the season, and, with increasing frequency in recent years, right after the draft.

There has been increasing chatter about the Houston Texans making more front office changes after the season, and multiple executives I’ve spoken with believe Houston GM Nick Caserio is not on nearly as solid footing as he was in the past. Longtime Caserio ally Jack Easterby, a former team chaplain in New England when Caserio was there who rose to become the most influential executive in Houston, was abruptly fired earlier this season. The Texans are the NFL’s lone one-win team and are facing another looming head coaching decision; having Caserio fire Lovie Smith one year after also making David Culley a one-and-done seems untenable to some in the NFL agent and executive communities. Starting entirely from scratch might have better optics.

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If the Texans do, in fact, believe another head coaching change is in order, several GMs I’ve talked to said they didn’t think Caserio would still be there to fire Smith and be a part of the next hiring cycle. Houston’s rebuild has been agonizing, signs of progress have been limited at best, and Houston’s ownership has been erratic since Cal McNair took over after his father’s death in 2018.

“Keep your eye on that one,” said one high-ranking NFL official who has interviewed with the Texans in the past and knows the organization well, but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is precluded from discussing other organizations publicly. “I don’t think Nick gets to fire another coach, especially with Easterby gone. I’m hearing there is more to come there.”

Denver GM George Paton’s job security remains a topic of great speculation around the league as well. The Russell Wilson trade and signing has been a total flop, the hiring of rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett seemed doomed from the onset — and all of that was done before a new ownership group came in. The Waltons have unlimited resources, so eating the contracts for both a coach and GM might not seem all that cost-prohibitive to them. There is a mounting consensus that Hackett will not be back — “They can’t sell that to their fans in 2023,” one GM said — and three executives I spoke to all believe that front office changes are more likely than not in Denver.

Executives are anticipating Arizona to have a new coach next season as well, although it remains to be seen if GM Steve Keim, who has overseen myriad poor rosters and put together most of Arizona’s coaching staff himself, will be let go.

The Colts and Panthers have already fired their coaches. Interim Panthers coach Steve Wilks has strong support within that organization; the team has played hard for him despite an odious quarterback situation, and several execs believe it’s possible Wilks lands the job full-time. That would bode well for Carolina General Manager Scott Fitterer, who began separating himself from outgoing head coach Matt Rhule back in 2021, according to numerous people privy to that dynamic. Staving off a head coaching hire would help his cause.

Colts GM Chris Ballard has been seemingly neutered by owner Jim Irsay’s handling of the head coaching and quarterback situations. Irsay has said Ballard is safe, but he also gave Frank Reich repeated votes of confidence before tossing him out to hire Jeff Saturday, despite the latter having no experience above the high school level. It remains to be seen if Saturday himself is long for this task, or what high jinks Irsay might be up to next.

I also continue to hear a Jaguars front office shake-up is forthcoming, with Trent Baalke perhaps sticking around in another role, but with his future as a GM very much in the balance. Coach Doug Pederson could come away with more power in Jacksonville.

Three trades that made an impact

A month removed from the trade deadline, I asked a few executives how they would review some of the most critical acquisitions now that those players have settled in with their new teams.

The Ravens’ front seven has been markedly better with Roquan Smith joining Patrick Queen at inside linebacker. It was a steep price to pay for a potential rental — a second- and a fifth-round pick — especially for an off-ball linebacker who doesn’t provide much pass rush, but the move has paid dividends. “He’s been an impact player for them,” said one NFL GM, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t allowed to criticize other teams. “Fit right in. But I still think they needed a receiver more than a linebacker.” Indeed, Baltimore’s passing offense has been among the worst in the NFL since Week 4.

NFC East watch: The Cowboys have hit their stride and the Giants look shaky

Obviously, Christian McCaffrey has been a stalwart for the 49ers, who need his dual-threat skill set now more than ever with starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out for the remainder of the season. The run game, short passing and screens will be even more vital with rookie Brock Purdy now running the offense. Of course, McCaffrey staying healthy will be the litmus test given his long history.

And the Steelers have been a better offense and a better team since jettisoning disgruntled receiver Chase Claypool, who has brought very little to Chicago. Pittsburgh will be getting one of the top picks in the second round now for a player who wasn’t in their future. “The Steelers fleeced [the Bears],” the GM said. “And they got Claypool out of their quarterback’s ear.” Indeed, rookie Kenny Pickett has gone four games without a pick after eight in his first five appearances.

Notes from around the league

Joe Burrow will be a factor in the MVP equation. Bank on it. He outplayed Patrick Mahomes on Sunday, a week after Mahomes broke down in the red zone against a horrible Rams defense. His clutch gene is off the charts and Ja’Marr Chase’s return paid immediate dividends for a team that has won eight of its last 10 games. During that 10-game stretch, Burrow has the best passer rating in the NFL (111.4), while completing a stellar 70.4 percent of his passes. His 22 touchdowns in that span are just one behind Mahomes, and Burrow has thrown just four picks in those 10 games. He looks possessed. …

The Chargers’ defense continues to suffer, the franchise is unable to stack wins and quarterback Justin Herbert isn’t in a scheme that plays to his strengths. All of that portends major change, with Coach Brandon Staley’s job security in serious peril. “They’ve wasted the three cheapest years of Herbert’s career,” said one NFL GM, who isn’t allowed to talk about other franchises. “[Staley] has to go. They can’t keep him.”

Plenty of eyebrows around the league were raised by Dallas putting 33 points on the Colts in the fourth quarter Sunday night. Don’t underestimate how disrespectful many in the coaching community found Irsay’s handling of the Saturday hire. It was personal for Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni, a former Colts assistant, and it seemed personal for the Cowboys coaches, too. Saturday leaving Matt Ryan in until the bitter end to absorb more beatings was a bad look. Don’t be shocked if others, given the opportunity, run up the score as well.

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