Should The Detroit Lions Keep Andre Roberts For Next Season?
Every Lions fan has a certain eye twitch when Andre Roberts catches the ball four yards deep in the end zone, and takes that first step forward. Lions fans have been screaming all season long for the replacement of Andre Roberts. I have been suggesting all season that it is not Roberts who is the problem, but special teams coordinator Joe Marciano and possibly coach Jim Caldwell, who are the real problem with the Lions return game. If those two men were not telling Roberts to take it out of the end zone, he would not have kept the job.
Andre Roberts Performance
Andre Roberts was the third best punt returner in the NFL this season. His 12.3 yards per punt return trailed only Tyreek Hill of Kansas City and Marcus Sherels of Minnesota. Those two combined with Roberts to be the only three players in the NFL to return multiple punts for touchdowns, with two each. As a punt returner Roberts was indisputably among the NFL’s elite in 2016. He placed eighth in the league in Kick return average, which puts him in the upper echelon of NFL kick returners as well. As the Lions fourth receiver Roberts managed only 14 catches on the year, and had some drop issues. As a wide receiver he showed us that he does not deserve a larger role, though he has played one in the past.
Andre Roberts Contract
Roberts was playing this season on an extremely team friendly deal, as he made only $760,000 for the 2016 season. The Lions are unlikely to get such a bargain again, with Roberts having shown the league that he is a legitimate roster player. Roberts made good decisions in the punt return game. He utilized fair catches well, and did not field punts near the goal line. I put the blame for the kick returns out of the end zone on the coaching staff, as Roberts would have been replaced in that job by Dwayne Washington or TJ Jones had the decision been Roberts’ to make. Roberts returned more kicks than any other player in the NFL, which makes coaching strategy the likely culprit.
If Roberts goes to free agency, he will likely receive a significant pay raise, though in percentage not actual dollar value. I would expect Roberts to sign a deal nearing 1.5 million per year and for two seasons. His track record as a punt returner is well above average, and he just put in a spectacular season. Tedd Ginn would be the best comparable I can think of for a special teams role, though Ginn brings more to the table offensively in recent years. This contract is well below Ginn’s salary of $2 million dollars with the Panthers.
So Should the Lions sign Andre Roberts?
The Lions should absolutely sign Andre Roberts, and should do so before free agency opens. His ticket will be punched low enough that if he were to fall off a cliff as a returner the salary cap implications are minimal for cutting him. If they can get him for one year that would be ideal, but I suspect a team like Cleveland, Chicago, of San Francisco, all of which will have difficulty moving the ball next season on offense, will be looking to upgrade their return game. I would like to see Roberts pushed down the wide receiver depth chart this offseason, but as a dedicated return man I think the Lions have their guy. They just need to get better at math and also stop telling him to bring kicks out of the end zone.