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THE MOJ: B.C. Lions facing some tough choices as free agency set to open

Don’t be too surprised if one or both of Betts and Hladik end up elsewhere
Neil McEvoy holds a stopwatch during a training and scouting session. (Photo courtesy of the BC Lions)

With CFL free agency looming, the big question B.C. Lions fans are asking is whether or not the football club will re-sign defensive end Mathieu Betts.

The 28-year-old University of Laval product is coming off a monstrous 2023 season which saw him set the record for most sacks by a Canadian (18) and also capture the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.

Needless to say, Betts is going to get paid - either by the Lions or by another CFL team.

As each day goes by, my gut feeling is that Betts will be playing football somewhere else next year.

Both sides are saying all the right things with Betts proclaiming his love for the team and the province while Lions General Manager Neil McEvoy states that they would love to have Betts return but there are other factors that have to come into consideration.

“Financially there are dominoes. You can get the deal done today. But then the dominoes would be almost too catastrophic for us to deal with. So we’re working with it. We’re trying to get it all done. He’s a good football player. He’s certainly a good guy and means a lot to this football team,” McEvoy told the media earlier this week.

With the signing of American linebacker Josh Woods on Tuesday, the two big-ticket free agents that McEvoy and Rick Campbell are trying to re-sign are Betts and National linebacker Ben Hladik.

In a perfect world, you would re-sign both of them but we don’t live in a perfect world.

When Betts signed with B.C. two years ago after leaving Edmonton, it was for a reported $160,000 plus incentives.

After his historic 2023 season, that base salary will be at least $250,000 or more.

The Montreal Alouettes will probably back up the Brinks truck in an effort to sign Betts and will in all likelihood offer off-field perks such as sponsorship opportunities that won’t be available in Vancouver, but McEvoy remains optimistic.

“We do have a good group of French Canadians on our football team. So I don’t necessarily think (playing in) Vancouver is a detriment. I know people always say ‘Oh, the player wants to be back in Montreal.’ I don’t necessarily know if that’s true. And Mathieu is an amazing individual. He’s a great person in our community and a great person for this football team,” said McEvoy.

As McEvoy mentioned, you could re-sign Betts tomorrow but what does that leave you for the rest of your team in terms of cap space?

Given that situation, I don’t see a scenario where both Betts AND Hladik re-sign with the team.

In fact, both players might be playing elsewhere this season.

The wildcard with Hladik is how effective Woods looked in the middle during the playoffs after the former UBC Thunderbird was injured in the last game of the season.

Couple that with how high the team is on sophomore linebacker Ryder Varga and you could see Hladik on the move as well if the price is too high.

So if both players choose greener pastures, what happens then?

“We will spend those resources. In the salary cap world, you’re not spending to the minimum, you’re spending to the max and trying to maintain as much as you can. So I have no problem that those resources will be spent,” stated McEvoy.

Now if you’re expecting the Lions to pivot and go after a big-ticket running back like Brady Oliviera or A.J. Ouellette, you might be disappointed.

McEvoy claims that the Lions will most likely be a ‘day two’ team when it comes to free agency but that doesn’t mean they could still land a potential upgrade in the backfield.

William Stanback and Ka’Deem Carey are two veterans that are available and that could be had on discounts given their age and durability issues. Stanback could be an interesting target as you know quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. will be pitching his former Alouette teammate on the idea of joining him in B.C.

With Dane Evans retiring, the club is also looking for a back-up to Adams Jr. Chris Streveler’s was mentioned as a potential candidate before he re-signed with Winnipeg while some believe that former Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius would be a good fit. But McEvoy has made it very clear to anyone interested that Adams Jr. is their guy.

“There are some high-profile backup quarterbacks coming back into our league that I know that are looking for, not necessarily number two spots, but maybe as a #1 or a #1B be but we just don’t have that situation. Sometimes it’s tough to talk to these guys about being a #2 today when they want to be a #1 or a #1B and you know Vernon is our quarterback. Vernon is our guy and we’re excited about ‘Big Play VA’ coming back. So there is no #1B -we’re looking for a #2 and a #3,” noted McEvoy.


* The negotiation window starts on Feb. 4 and lasts until Feb. 11 with free agency ‘officially’ beginning on Feb. 13.

* McEvoy also mentioned that defensive halfback T.J. Lee and wide receiver Keon Hatcher are on schedule in terms of their recovery from their respective Achilles surgeries.

* There will be a Lions connection at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas as San Francisco 49er’s linebackers coach Johnny Holland spent two seasons in B.C. as a linebackers coach in 2014 and 2015. Holland has been an inspiration for the 49ers organization as he continues to coach despite being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma three years ago.

* FanDuel will be holding it’s “Kick of Destiny Part 2” promotion with Rob Gronkowski during Super Bowl week. Featured in the promotion is actor Carl Weathers – known for his role as Apollo Creed in the Rocky series. Weathers appeared in 18 games as a linebacker with the Lions from 1971 to 1973.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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