Free agency moves will determine Lions' draft pick

Unless you know what the Lions are going to do in free agency, you can't possibly know what they're going to do in the draft.

Unless you know what the Lions are going to do in free agency, you can't possibly know what they're going to do in the draft.

Brian Spurlock / USA TODAY Sports

Mock drafts are being posted. Debates are ensuing. With the 10th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions will take ...

Until we know what they do in free agency, it's really not even worth guessing. This year, as much as ever, the two are really tied together.

The Lions are going to have the opportunity to plug one of their three main holes --€“ receiver, cornerback and safety -- two months from now in the draft. There will be solid options at each position coming out of the college ranks when they're on the clock for the first time on May 8.

But first, they will have the same chance to fill those needs with a veteran player as free agency officially begins Tuesday at 4 p.m.

That's why the mock-draft discussions are so meaningless at this moment.

Unless you know what the Lions are going to do in free agency, you can't possibly know what they're going to do in the draft.

There has been speculation that they will pursue a top receiver this week such as Hakeen Nicks of the New York Giants, Green Bay's James Jones or Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders.

Who knows, maybe they'll even make a run at Seattle's Golden Tate.

The Lions badly need a No. 2 receiver to complement superstar Calvin Johnson and to give quarterback Matthew Stafford another legitimate weapon. No receiver on this team has caught more than 39 passes other than Johnson in either of the last two seasons.

But if they do sign one of these free agents, it seemingly would become very unlikely that they would also take a receiver like Texas A&M's Mike Evans in the first round, although all bets are off if Clemson's game-breaker Sammy Watkins somehow fell to them (don't hold your breath).

There are also rumors that the Lions already have expressed interest in signing Tennessee Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner, who had a breakout season in 2013 when he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

Verner, 25, is one of a logjam of cornerbacks on the free-agent market. The problem in the Lions' case is that the price for top-level corners appears to be extremely high this year. Whether they can fit one in under the salary cap -- and still satisfy their other needs -- could be an issue.

Cornerback remains a pressing need for this team unless you believe that Chris Houston definitely will bounce back from a lousy season and that at least one or two of the youngsters (Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood or Jonte Green) will emerge as a dependable and durable pro this year.

If the Lions decide not to take that risk and end up signing a free agent, knowing that cornerback is such a difficult position for young players to make the transition to the NFL, then the chances of drafting Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard is basically slim to none.

And then there are those reports that the Lions have also showed interest in Cleveland safety T.J. Ward over the weekend. NFL teams could start negotiating with free agents on Saturday but no contracts can be signed until Tuesday.

Ward was ranked as the No. 3 safety in the league last season by Pro Football Focus. Detroit also has been discussed as a potential good fit for Miami's Chris Clemons, whose asking price might not be as high.

The Lions have an obvious spot to fill in their secondary after releasing Louis Delmas to dump his large salary-cap hit.

But if they do land a safety in free agency, there's next-to-no chance that they'd step up and take another one like Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville's Calvin Pryor in the first round of the draft.

It's all connected.

Sign a receiver, draft a cornerback or a safety.

Sign a cornerback, draft a receiver or a safety.

Sign a safety, draft a receiver or a cornerback.

There's even one more free-agent scenario that could dictate the Lions' draft-day decision. If they're unable to re-sign Brandon Pettigrew, North Carolina's Eric Ebron, a playmaking tight end, could join the conversation of first-round options.

However, if Pettigrew returns to Detroit, Ebron probably isn't even a consideration.

So before we get all hung up about whether the Lions should do this or must do that in the draft, let's wait and see what they are able to get done in free agency first.