Mathieu Betts is going to get paid.
In fact, the 28-year-old defensive end is likely to become the CFL’s highest paid defensive lineman when free agency opens on February 13.
And, with the league’s free agent negotiating period set to open on February 4, the Betts bidding war is about to kick into high gear.
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Betts breaking the bank makes sense. He just finished a dominant 2023 with the BC Lions where he led the league with 18 sacks, the most ever from a Canadian and the highest from anyone since 2015. When you factor in Betts being a ratio buster and the defending Most Outstanding Defensive Player, you can understand why multiple teams are ready to put significant offers on the table.
So where might Betts end up? Here are a few potential landing spots.
Betts staying with the team where he’s enjoyed his two most successful seasons still feels the most likely outcome. After parts of two seasons with Edmonton, it was the Lions who took a chance on Betts in 2022 free agency in what was a risk at the time. BC and Betts agreed on a significant two-year deal despite the player having recorded just two career CFL sacks.
Goodness did that risk pay off. 25 sacks later, Betts was one of the key figures helping the Lions to back-to-back Western Final appearances. His return would cement them as bona fide Grey Cup contenders this season. The fit with head coach Rick Campbell, defensive coordinator Ryan Phillips, and line coach John Bowman has been great, so why mess with a good thing?
Of course, there’s always the question of dollars and cents. BC has already signed star receivers Keon Hatcher and Alexander Hollins to contract extensions, with both receiving significant raises after breakout seasons. Whether a big Betts raise will fit into the Lions’ cap is the main question that needs to be asked now.
The Ticats are clearly ready to make big moves, as their acquisition of linebacker Jordan Williams from Toronto earlier this week can attest to. Coming off an 8-10 season where they limped into the playoffs, and head coach Scott Milanovich now at the helm, Hamilton has eyes on taking a big step forward in 2024. Signing Betts would go a long way in making that happen.
The Tiger-Cats finished last season near the bottom of the league with 41 sacks and didn’t have a dominant pass rusher at any point. With Ja’Gared Davis and Malik Carney currently unsigned, there’s a hole on the depth chart looking for a player like Betts to fill. And I really like the potential of pairing Betts with the returning Casey Sayles, who’s one of the league’s most disruptive interior forces.
There’s always something to be said about going back to where it all began. The Elks drafted Betts third overall at the 2019 CFL Draft and saw him suit up in green and gold for his first two professional seasons. Now an established force, a Betts return would make a lot of sense, especially considering how desperately Edmonton needs to return to the playoffs.
The positional need is significant, too. The acquisition of receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. from Toronto earlier this month made sense considering his history with new quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. But Jake Ceresna, who went the other way in the trade, was the Elks co-leader in sacks with 12 last season. Bringing Betts back would go a long way in making up for that loss.
The champs didn’t hit full stride on the defensive side of the ball until late last season, which was aided by two mid-season signings: linebacker Darnell Sankey and defensive end Shawn Lemon. And despite only playing 13 games with Montreal, it was Lemon who led the team with nine sacks in 2023. Unsurprisingly, both Lemon and Sankey have re-upped for a run at a second-straight title. Now imagine Betts joining them.
And if you’re talking about homecomings, Betts joining the Alouettes would fit the bill. Betts grew up in Montreal and was in his most formative football years when Anthony Calvillo and company were winning the franchise’s most recent Grey Cups prior to last season. He then won a pair of Vanier Cup titles a few hours down the road with the Laval Rouge et Or. It’s hard not to see Betts and the Als being a stellar match.