You'll recall that the Lions sent the Jacksonville Jaguars a future draft pick to complete a trade for Thomas midway through last season. (According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, it was a fifth-round pick in 2014.) Thomas caught five passes for 28 yards and one touchdown in nine games, and the Lions released him Monday, but in between they must have had genuine plans for him in 2013.
How do we know that? According to ESPN's Roster Management System, Thomas' contract called for $1 million of his base salary this season to be guaranteed against injury only. But on April 5, that became a full guarantee -- for injury and skill -- and thus the Lions could be on the hook for paying him $1 million this year even though he won't be on their roster. He would count the same amount against their salary cap.
According to the information available to me, there is no offset language in Thomas' contract that would relieve the Lions' burden if and when he signs with another team. But if there is in fact an offset, the Lions would owe Thomas the difference between $1 million and his new base salary.
Even if that's the case, and Thomas signs a veteran minimum deal worth $715,000, leaving the Lions to pay $285,000, that's still a significant amount of money and cap space for a player whom the Lions got almost nothing out of.
For now, the Lions seem more comfortable with a receiver group that includes Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Patrick Edwards behind All-Pro Calvin Johnson. Part of the problem might have been that Thomas is a slot receiver, but the Lions had a logjam there with Burleson and Broyles both working at that position as well. In all, the circumstances surrounding this trade are murky and the details don't add up.