It’s an age-old adage - one that urges people to adopt their opponent’s strategy in a time of need.
‘If you can’t beat them, join them.’
When it came to the signing of veteran kick returner Andre Roberts, Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane altered this proverb just a bit.
‘If you can’t stop them, sign them.’
The former ace of the Jets’ special teams unit, Roberts decimated the Bills twice last season, accumulating 308 return yards throughout the two meetings.
While watching Roberts dice through Buffalo’s coverage unit, Beane realized that he would rather see the 31-year-old make an impact for his team instead of against it.
“Andre, Bills fans will definitely know, especially if you were in our stadium that day and watched him,” Beane said of Roberts’ 176 return yards in Week 13. “We kind of had control of that game until he had a couple of long returns on us.
“He had a really good year. He’s a pro’s pro . . . Once we got him signed, we were thrilled.”
Nearly 30 percent of Roberts’ 1,174 return yards came against the Bills last season. Now a Bill himself, Roberts has already forgotten about his past prowess against Buffalo.
“I don’t even want to talk about that,” Roberts joked. “I’m a Buffalo Bill now. We’ll leave that in the past.”
Roberts joins the Bills’ roster as an All-Pro, the league’s reigning leader in kick return yards. HIs breakout 1,000-return yard campaign came in his age-30 season, a mark at which many players start to decline physically.
Roberts showed no signs of slowing down in the 2018 campaign, however. Now with his sixth professional team, he’s eager to prove that age is just a number.
“Every team I’ve gone to, I’ve been productive,” Roberts said. “That’s the reason why I’ve been able to stay in the league. I’m always productive. I don’t really care about the age thing, because some people say 30 is old, but I’ve got some guys in my class, the 2010 class, Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, [Antonio Brown], we’re all the same age pretty much.
“You can call us old if you want, but we all feel young. I’m sure of that. That’s all that matters. A lot of it has to do with your mind. My body feels great.”
Though Roberts has been a proficient kick returner for some time, he took a massive step forward in the 2018 season, besting his previous return-yard high (860) by 314 yards. Former New York head coach Todd Bowles saw Roberts grow throughout the campaign, with the former third-round draft pick even superseding his expectations.
“This is not my first run with Andre,” Bowles said, according to Newsday’s Anthony Rieber. “My first year in Arizona, we were together. I knew he was a punt and kick returner. Not to the magnitude that he’s doing right now, but I knew he could catch the ball and I knew he could get some positive returns.
“A couple [of] years later, it’s really grown. I’m not surprised at it because I’ve seen him do it before.”
In Buffalo, Roberts will serve as the centerpiece of Heath Farwell’s revamped special teams unit. Shortly after Roberts signed on the dotted line, the Bills’ new special teams coordinator expressed his excitement to Brandon Beane through a text.
“Heath Farwell was really texting me, and just excited that we got him,” Beane said. “Looking forward to welcoming him here and seeing what he can do in the return game for us.”
Farwell has first-hand knowledge of Roberts’ efficiency. The two crossed paths as NFC West rivals just a few years ago, and Roberts is excited to learn from a player he once shared the field with.
“I don’t think he’s ever gotten a hit on me, but we did play against each other when I was in Arizona early on in my career,” Roberts said. “He was in Seattle. We crossed paths, but I don’t think it was too much.
“I always say when you have a coach, regardless if it’s special teams, offense, or defense, that’s played the game, it means a lot more. They understand what you’re going through and what you have to deal with. Like I said, they get it, they get it.”
The opportunity to learn from Farwell was just one of many things that attracted Roberts to Buffalo. He immediately took notice of the team’s family-oriented culture. something that he and Bills’ linebacker Lorenzo Alexander have discussed in the past.
He also took Buffalo’s division into consideration before inking a two-year deal. He’s already looking forward to playing against the Jets twice per season.
Perhaps most importantly, Roberts felt wanted by the Bills. The opportunity to be a core playmaker on a team that’s on the rise was something he couldn’t turn down.
“They proved to me early on that they wanted me to be here,” Roberts said. “That means a lot to me.
“I know they’re building something special here.”