The Detroit Lions filled some of their biggest needs during free agency by adding the likes of Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo. That's not to say that wide receiver and safety are completely set and should be ignored going into the 2014 NFL Draft, but the Lions don't absolutely have to use a first-round pick to address one of those positions.
Essentially, the Lions created some flexibility when it comes to their draft strategy for the first round based on what they did in free agency. They are free to take a wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, cornerback, safety or even an offensive lineman because there is no longer a position that is absolutely in need of a first-round pick.
The Lions got even more draft flexibility on Monday when the NFL gave them two compensatory picks in the fourth round. The expectation was for the Lions to receive only one fourth-round compensatory pick, which essentially would have helped cancel out the loss of their fifth-round pick (it was given away in the Mike Thomas trade from a couple years ago). Instead, though, the NFL handed out a pair of extra fourth-round picks to the Lions, giving them a total of eight selections in this year's draft, six of which are in the top 136.
A couple of extra fourth-round picks aren't necessarily going to change the Lions' strategy when it comes to which positions they target early in the draft. However, those picks could change the Lions' strategy when it comes to trading up in the first round. Compensatory picks can't be traded, but having those two extra fourth-rounders in hand makes the idea of trading up much more palatable since they now have eight total selections.
Consider this scenario... Let's say the Lions didn't get any compensatory picks but really wanted to trade up for Sammy Watkins. Earlier, Jeremy Reisman concluded that the Lions would likely have to part ways with a second- or third-round pick depending on just how far up they want to jump. Without the compensatory picks, losing a third-rounder would have left the Lions with only one selection in rounds 3-5. After the 45th pick, they would have had to wait until No. 111 to go on the clock again, and then they would have had to wait until No. 189 after that.
The reality is that with those two extra fourth-round picks, the Lions are now much better prepared to deal with the loss of a third-round selection. They would still have a big wait from 45 to 111 if they decided to trade their third-round pick, but instead of sitting around until the sixth round after that, they would go on the clock again at 133 and 136. Suddenly, the idea of losing a third-round pick to move up for Watkins isn't so daunting.
Of course, the Lions may ultimately decide that trading up isn't the wisest idea, and they may simply hold on to their eight picks. There is still some added flexibility in the sense that the Lions could now address a need like backup quarterback in the fourth round. Without those two extra fourth-round picks, you wouldn't necessarily want to spend a mid-round pick on a player who may never even see the field. However, if the Lions are unable to re-sign Shaun Hill, using one of the compensatory picks to fill their need for a backup quarterback could make a lot of sense. Rather than wait until one of the final rounds to draft someone who is more of a project, perhaps the Lions could snag someone like Aaron Murray or David Fales at the end of the fourth round.
Obviously it remains to be seen what the Lions will do in the draft, especially when it comes to potentially trading up and the idea of taking a quarterback. However, the point is that they really now have the freedom to explore all of these different scenarios. It would have been tough to trade up or justify taking a quarterback with only six total picks. Now, though, with eight picks overall and six in the first four rounds, the Lions can really go in a number of different directions on all three days of this year's draft.