The 25-year-old Thomas is a slot specialist with the ability to return punts and kickoffs – although it isn't clear if he'll get that opportunity in Detroit.
Wide receiver Nate Burleson – who was the team's primary slot receiver – broke his leg against the Chicago Bears a little over a week ago, ending his season. Rookie receiver Ryan Broyles moved up to fill most of the void but the team's depth in the slot would be significantly impacted if Broyles – who is coming off a torn Achilles – were to get injured.
The Lions felt they were fortunate in their ability to stay healthy last year at receiver and did not want to take any risks this year.
"We figured going into the season that we were lucky last year not to have an injury at receiver," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan last week when asked about Broyles replacing Burleson. "This year, unfortunately we lost Nate."
The Lions employ three and four receiver sets often on offense, so the desire to obtain more depth at the position is understandable, especially if they feel that the player could be productive.
Thomas has proven he can be an effective pass catcher, registering 158 receptions in his first three seasons.
Interestingly enough, the Lions play Jacksonville this weekend and the timing of the trade – occurring on Tuesday, two days before the league's trade deadline on Thursday – should give Thomas the opportunity to play.
"The only thing when it's on a Tuesday, generally when you're going to trade for a guy you get him in for the week preparation," said head coach Jim Schwartz on Monday, prior to the trade. "If it's later in the week, it's a little harder to get a guy up for Sunday. That would probably be the only thing."
The Lions won't announce the trade until the transaction is officially complete, including Thomas passing a physical.