Skip to main content


Betts felt the time was right to take another shot at NFL

Mathieu Betts BC Lions Mathieu Betts - John E. Sokolowski/Getty Images

For Mathieu Betts, the time was right to make a second attempt at cracking an NFL roster.

Betts signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, shortly after becoming a CFL free agent. The former Laval star's first NFL foray came in 2019 when he signed with the Chicago Bears an undrafted free agent but was among the club's final cuts.

This time, though, the six-foot-three, 250-pound Betts will head south of the border not only with the benefit of an NFL training camp under his belt but also four seasons of professional football. Since being released by Chicago, Betts has played with the CFL's Edmonton Elks (2019, 2021) and B.C. Lions (2022-23).

"If five years ago I was in the state I am today, that would've been pretty, pretty cool," Betts told reporters via video conference Wednesday. "It's hard to explain and you hear it and it's a cliche but you can't buy experience.

"When you get a training camp in the NFL and then play four seasons in the CFL, you see good players, you acquire experience, you see the pre-snap keys quicker. I've also worked out the past five years so I'm stronger, more explosive and leaner. I don't think there's anything I did five years ago that I don't do better now so I obviously feel I'm in a better situation football-wise to make an NFL roster, for sure."

Betts, 28, is coming off a dominant '23 season that saw him post a CFL-best 18 sacks, the most ever in a season by a Canadian player. That earned the Montreal native the league's outstanding defensive player award.

That certainly put Betts in a prime position heading into CFL free agency, but after weighing his options on both sides of the border, Betts felt Detroit provided him with his best fit. In addition to the Lions, Betts also had off-season workouts with Cleveland and Buffalo.

Detroit (12-5) was one of the NFL's biggest surprises this season, winning the NFC North, its first division title since 1993. The upstart Lions reached the NFC championship game and led 24-7 at halftime before losing 34-31 to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I don't think I'm making life easier on me by choosing Detroit," Betts said. "It (Detroit) felt like the best fit for me as my next team, especially in the NFL, that was the roster we were most confident that I could crack.

"The chemistry, the energy, the discussions I've had with the staff there, it just felt right."

Betts is betting on himself as his NFL deal covers just one year and features no guaranteed money. But while Detroit's defence boasts former first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson (11.5 sacks in 2023), the only other pass rusher under contract for next season is James Houston, who had surgery for an ankle injury that required the insertion of a plate and four screws.

Betts said it was difficult to leave a B.C. team that was among the CFL's best last season. The Lions (12-6) finished second in the West Division then dispatched Calgary 41-30 in the conference semifinal before losing 24-13 to Winnipeg in the final.

What's more, the '24 Grey Cup will be held in Vancouver.

"That was probably the hardest part of the decision," Betts said. "I've had such an amazing time in B.C. and I love the CFL, having been a fan my whole life.

"I reached out to many of my teammates to tell them about my decision and everybody is really happy for me, really excited and that reassures me a lot. I'm happy about it now, I'm not looking in the rear-view mirror, I am focused on what's ahead and trying to have fun with it and make the most out of this opportunity."

Betts has no plans to change his off-season preparation just because he'll be attending an NFL training camp.

"My exact focus is to not change anything in what I've done over the past couple of years to make me successful," he said. "I know my body, I know how to perform and I want to stay true to what I do (well).

"That will give me the best chance to be the best football player possible."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.