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From B.C. Lion to Detroit Lion as sack master Betts signs south of the border

Saskatchewan Roughriders open CFL free agency with a huge bang
B.C. Lions’ Mathieu Betts with his award for the Most Outstanding Defensive Player at the 2023 Canadian Football League (CFL) Awards in Niagara Falls, Ont. Thursday, November 16, 2023. Betts, one of the CFL’s most coveted free agents, is returning to the NFL. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Canadian Mathieu Betts, one of the CFL’s most coveted free agents, is returning to the NFL.

The CFL’s outstanding defensive player last season has signed a contract with the Detroit Lions, the NFL team announced Tuesday. The 28-year-old became a free agent in Canada at noon ET on Tuesday.

This will mark Betts’s second attempt at securing an NFL job. He signed with the Chicago Bears in 2019 as an undrafted free agent after being selected in the first round, third overall, in that year’s CFL draft by the Edmonton Elks.

Betts returned to Canada after being released by Chicago.

Betts had a stellar ‘23 campaign in Canada with the B.C. Lions. He led the CFL in sacks with 18, setting a single-season record for Canadians.

The former Laval star appeared in all 18 of B.C.’s regular-season games, registering 44 tackles, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

“Once a Lion, always a Lion,” the B.C. Lions tweeted Tuesday. “Wishing Mathieu Betts all the best with the (Detroit) Lions.

“You’re getting a good one.”

The six-foot-three, 250-pound Betts is certainly betting upon himself in signing with Detroit. As one the top free agents in the CFL, he would have commanded a salary well north of $200,000 a year, especially considering the year he was coming off.

If he’s released by Detroit, he will return to the CFL after teams have started their ‘24 schedule. As a free agent, Betts would have the latitude of signing with the Canadian team of his choice, but his contract here would be pro-rated and less than what he would’ve received this week.

And the CFL all-star is taking a calculated gamble joining a solid Lions team that reached the NFC championship game before losing a gut-wrenching 34-31 decision to the San Francisco 49ers.

Detroit’s defence boasts former first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson, who had 11.5 sacks in 2023. But the Lions only have one pass rusher under contract for next season, James Houston, who required surgery for an ankle injury that required a plate and four screws being put into the joint.

Through 55 CFL games, Betts has made 81 tackles, 27 sacks, five forced fumbles and four special teams tackles.

Betts had a decorated collegiate career, winning consecutive J.P. Metras Trophy honours (2017-18) as Canadian university football’s top down lineman. He also helped Laval win two Vanier Cups during his tenure.

The B.C. Lions didn’t waste any time trying to fill the void.

On Tuesday night, the Lions signed American defensive lineman Pete Robertson to a one-year contract. The 31-year-old Robertson spent the last three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, registering 86 tackles, 21 sacks and six forced fumbles in 42 regular-season games.

He had nine sacks in 2022, leaving him tied for fourth in the CFL that season.

Earlier, the Lions signed American quarterback Dakota Prukop and Canadian receiver Jake Harty to one-year contracts.

READ ALSO: Veteran backup QB Prukop highlight for B.C. Lions as free agency opens


Jeremy O’Day opened CFL free agency with a huge bang.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager signed seven players on Tuesday. Included was running back A.J. Ouellette, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season with the Toronto Argonauts after helping them win the 2022 Grey Cup.

Ouellette, who signed a two-year deal, certainly addresses a need. Last season, Saskatchewan (6-12) boasted the league’s second-worst ground game (84.4 yards per game) in missing the playoffs for a second straight year.

To help with that, Saskatchewan also signed tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, the West Division’s top lineman last season with Winnipeg. O’Day also looked to shore up new head coach Corey Mace’s defence by adding defensive back Jalon Edwards-Cooper, linebacker Jameer Thurman, defensive lineman Malik Carney and Canadian twin linebackers Justin and Jordan Herdman-Reed.

Ouellette, Edwards-Cooper, Thurman, Hardrick and Carney are all Americans.

Seven of the CFL’s nine teams announced deals. Only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks did not.

But many of the moves were expected as teams secured agreements in principle with pending free agents last week during the CFL’s negotiation window. However, one that wasn’t finalized was the Calgary Stampeders’ agreement with American defensive lineman Ricky Walker.

According to a CFL source, the 27-year-old Walker didn’t sign the contract for personal reasons after recording 37 tackles and five sacks in 17 regular-season starts last year with Winnipeg.

Calgary signed four players, including all-star cornerback Demerio Houston to a two-year deal. Houston had a CFL-best seven interceptions and 10 defensive take-aways last season with Winnipeg.

The Stampeders also added quarterback Matt Shiltz and offensive lineman Trevon Tate — both Americans — and Canadian linebacker Micah Teitz.

The Grey Cup-champion Montreal Alouettes secured deals with four players — defensive linemen Derek Wiggan and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, running back Sean Thomas Erlington and receiver Tevin Jones. Wiggan, Adeyemi-Berglund and Erlington are Canadians while Jones is an American.

Wiggan and Adeyemi-Berglund come to Montreal following seven and three seasons, respectively, in Calgary. Erlington returns to his hometown following six seasons with Hamilton, having played at the University of Montreal under head coach Danny Maciocia, currently the Alouettes GM.

Other moves include:

— Edmonton signed American kick-returner Javon Leake, the CFL’s top special-teams player last season with Toronto.

— B.C. also signed American quarterback Dakota Prukop and Canadian receiver Jake Harty to one-year deals. Prukop fills a need as veteran backup Dane Evans retired following the 2023 season.

— Defensive back Jamal Peters, a 2022 CFL all-star, was among three players signed by Hamilton. Peters joins the Ticats after three seasons with Toronto, helping the Argos win the ‘22 Grey Cup.

— Toronto signed defensive backs Tunde Adeleke, Kerfalla Exume and Quincy Mauger, linebacker Fraser Sopik and fullback Albert Awachie. All but Mauger are Canadian. The Argos also added global defensive lineman Thiadric Hansen, who spent the last four years with Winnipeg, earning two Grey Cup rings.