Dave Ziegler on Patriots’ offseason priorities, challenge of Nick Caserio’s departure

"I think having cap space gives you flexibility, and there aren’t a whole lot of teams at this point that maybe have a lot of cap space."

Gillette Stadium Patriots
A view of Gillette Stadium during the Patriots' regular season finale against the Jets in Jan. 2021. –Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Patriots face the challenge of replacing a key figure who was with the franchise for two decades, including all six of the Super Bowl wins.

Yes, technically that could still be a reference to Tom Brady, but in 2021 it also means Nick Caserio. Granted, the former personnel director’s value to New England was clearly less than that of a franchise quarterback, but Caserio — now the general manager of the Texans — was nonetheless instrumental in helping Bill Belichick build (and rebuild) multiple championship rosters.

While no one has been officially named as New England’s new Director of Player Personnel, Dave Ziegler was introduced in a recent interview with Patriots team reporter Megan O’Brien as having a “new role.”

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“There [have] been some changes to the organization,” O’Brien began. “Nick left, and you have a new role.”

Ziegler has been in New England for eight years, following three with the Broncos scouting department. He was the Patriots’ assistant director of player personnel in 2020, working with Caserio (who he played with in college at John Carroll alongside Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels).

Looking at his new role, Ziegler thanked his colleagues for helping with the transition.

“It’s been fun, and it’s been challenging,” said Ziegler. “It’s been a new level of having to be ultra-organized, prioritize tasks and be involved on just a greater scope with more people in the organization, which has been fun. Luckily for me, the support here within the scouting department from people like Brian Smith and Steve Cargile, Eliot Wolf — I could keep naming people, but we have so many good people here that offer support, that have experience, that it’s made the transition pretty seamless.

“And it’s exciting,” Ziegler added. “A new challenge, more involvement, being able to lead more people and hopefully have a greater impact is something that we all strive for in our careers. So it’s an exciting opportunity and something I’m ready to keep grinding away at.”

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Looking at the 2021 offseason, the obvious difference to years past are the ongoing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NFL canceled the rookie scouting combine, and college pro days have limited attendance.

“It present a new challenge, because you don’t have the opportunity [to have] as much face-to-face time with the players,” said Ziegler. “I think that’s the biggest thing. The interviews and the personal contact, and the face-to-face communication. Taking that out — you do Zoom calls and things like that — but just that face-to-face communication makes it different, because you’re not able to get the read on players that you would normally have, or the side conversations that you would have with players throughout the week makes it different.”

Along with discussing the recent “unique” trend of quarterback trades, Ziegler was asked about the Patriots’ vast amount of cap space in the offseason.

“I think having cap space gives you flexibility, and there aren’t a whole lot of teams at this point that maybe have a lot of cap space,” Ziegler explained. “I think having that flexibility, it just opens up options for you. And I think that at the same time, there’s still a responsibility to spend those dollars wisely.”

NFL free agency gets underway on March 17, with the draft set to begin on April 29.

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