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Here's Why Detroit Really Needs A WR Now

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With Nate Burleson's run in Detroit officially over, who will line up opposite Calvin Johnson in 2014? Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images.
With Nate Burleson's run in Detroit officially over, who will line up opposite Calvin Johnson in 2014? Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images.

To avoid salary cap penalties, the Lions cut safety Louis Delmas and wide receiver Nate Burleson on Thursday, saving the team over $11 million. Of that freed cap space, Burleson was set to earn $5.5 million, which the Lions felt was too much for an oft-injured second receiver.

The move doesn’t really shock me—Burleson’s age and injury history made it very difficult to warrant paying a #2 wideout that much money. My biggest concern, though, is that the Lions may have shown their hand when it comes to preparing for May’s NFL Draft.

With Burleson’s release, the Lions are now left with Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, Jeremy Ross, Michael Spurlock, and Ryan Broyles as the only remaining wide receivers to complement Calvin Johnson. All but Broyles, who is still rehabbing his torn Achilles tendon, are up for free agency this offseason, so it remains to be seen who exactly will still be around come training camp.

The money will likely not be there for the Lions to pursue a big-name free agent this offseason, so much of the team’s efforts will focus on their draft class. With the tenth overall pick, the Lions sit in good position to acquire one of the few pieces that they still need to complete a winning team. Most notable among those missing links are an effective cornerback and a wide receiver capable of producing opposite Johnson.

So what does this mean? There’s no doubt that the Lions will be targeting a wide receiver or two in the draft. In my honest opinion, I don’t much care for the Lions’ depth at the wide receiver spot. The group is unintimidating and had a problem with drops all last season (to be fair, Johnson did too). Bringing in a rookie who performed well in college could be the answer here. The biggest question is where to pick him?

It’s no secret by now that I think the Lions must absolutely nab a cornerback with the tenth overall pick. However, Burleson’s release makes me wonder if the Lions have placed the wideout position as a higher priority for the time being. Surely the team’s front office can’t be excited about the Lions’ lack of depth at receiver, so I would imagine that the receiver that the Lions choose will be competing for #2 duties in training camp.

Such a precarious position is not ideal for a mid- to late-round pick, so I fully expect GM Martin Mayhew to pull the trigger on a receiver in the first two rounds. With the depth chart looking the way that it is, taking a highly ranked player like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M’s Mike Evans with their first pick is looking like a greater possibility. Although I personally disagree with that strategy, I also understand that the damages of losing out on this talented receiver crop would be far greater than missing out on a stud cornerback.

Much remains to be seen, though, as to how the Lions’ offseason will play out. With the Combine just a week away, and free agency shortly thereafter, the Lions will have plenty of time to adjust their priorities before Draft Day.