January 8, 2024

MMQB: Some burning 2024 questions

Matt Smith, Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

Welcome to 2024!

We’re back for another calendar year and only one week in, the off-season news is coming at us fast and furious. With 2024 free agency just over a month away and with a new year officially upon us, we’ve got three burning questions to help frame some of the league’s biggest stories over the next number of months.

 Official: Elks sign McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Ticats, Bo Levi Mitchell agree to new contract structure
 Top 10 Canadian performers of 2023
» New Year, New Me: Projecting breakout Canadians for 2024

What does Tre Ford’s future look like?


If I’m being honest, I wasn’t expecting this to be one of the top early stories of the new year. With the way Ford finished last season, I thought the Edmonton Elks had their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. Then a returning familiar face changed the entire conversation.

Edmonton’s signing of veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson has added a whole new element to the off-season quarterback carousel. The Elks, in desperate need of a significant step forward on the field, officially signed Bethel-Thompson to a contract on Sunday evening. The deal reportedly makes the 2022 Grey Cup champion one of the CFL’s highest paid quarterbacks.

First off, I’m thrilled to see Bethel-Thompson back north of the border after a one-year hiatus spent with the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers. MBT is one of the league’s best success stories in recent years and adds instant stability for Edmonton at the game’s most important position.

It also throws Ford’s future with the Elks into doubt, though. By signing Bethel-Thompson to a lucrative contract, head coach and general manager Chris Jones clearly has eyes on installing him as Edmonton’s starter. That’s the job many thought Ford had solidified with his performance in the second half of 2023.

Having Ford as an explosive backup with a high ceiling isn’t a bad option for the Elks, especially considering how often teams are forced to use multiple pivots over the course of an 18-game season. But with what Ford is capable of, and knowing he’s a free agent following the season, is that the best asset management?

Would teams like Ottawa, Saskatchewan, Hamilton, or even Calgary entertain acquiring Ford to compete for a starting job this spring? He’d be a cap-friendly addition to any team with even small or moderate quarterback questions. Suddenly, Ford is one of the most interesting names to watch as the winter continues.

Is Bo Levi Mitchell in line for a bounce back?

Bo Levi Mitchell will look for a healthy 2024 in Hamilton for his second season with the Tiger-Cats (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

Last week also saw the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and two-time Most Outstanding Player Mitchell agree to a restructured contract for 2024. The new framework is to the benefit of both parties, too. It gives the Ticats much-needed cap flexibility entering free agency and gives Mitchell a better chance of remaining as the team’s starter following a miserable first year in Black and Yellow.

Due mostly to injuries, Mitchell only started six games last season after being acquired in a trade with Calgary. But Hamilton brought Mitchell in and signed him to a big deal, with eyes on him being the No. 1 guy. With a restructured contract who’s to say that still couldn’t be the case?

Mitchell is a proud person who has performed best when challenged throughout his career, at every level. He knows last year was a nightmare and will be out to prove he’s still capable of starting games at a high level. I know it’s been a frustrating last few years, but I’m still willing to bet on a motivated Mitchell.

Who are the top cap casualties?

Alexander Hollins was a big part of the Lions’ offence in 2023 and may be difficult to retain in free agency this year (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)

The “cost of winning” is a real thing in a salary cap world. It’s a syndrome the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been dealing with for the last three or four winters and it typically entails having to say goodbye to one or two important players. You can point to Marcus Sayles last off-season or Kenny Lawler in 2022 as examples of players that had to move on as Winnipeg attempted to keep as many core pieces as possible.

With free agency approaching next month, teams like the Bombers, Argos, Lions and of course the Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes will potentially be faced with a few difficult decisions in managing the 2024 cap.

Winnipeg will be at the forefront once again. After their fourth straight trip to the Grey Cup, the Bombers have huge raises to consider for a pair of offensive catalysts: tailback Brady Oliveira and receiver Dalton Schoen. Both players gave Winnipeg stellar returns compared to their salaries the last two years, which allowed them cap flexibility elsewhere. Now it’s time for Schoen and Oliveira to be paid like what they are: two of the best players in the league.

I’m curious to see if Montreal will have similar tough decisions. The Als have already locked up a trio of key pending free agents on defence in defensive end Shawn Lemon and linebackers Darnell Sankey and Tyrice Beverette. With a relatively small list of remaining unsigned players, Montreal may escape relatively unscathed.

Then there’s BC and its embarrassment of receiving riches from 2023. All four of Keon Hatcher, Alexander Hollins, Jevon Cottoy and Lucky Whitehead need new contracts and keeping everyone feels like a tall task. Hatcher and Hollins, who finished last season second and fourth overall in receiving yards respectively, are the two receivers looking at the biggest potential raises.

As per usual, we’ll have no shortage of intrigue entering another round of free agency. Signing season 2024 opens on February 13.

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