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Are there surprises in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers leading up to draft day?

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Everything appears set for the Steelers as they head into the NFL draft next weekend, but some curious questions still linger.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

History has shown that surprises can pop up in the days before the draft, and even on the day of the draft.

In 1996, the Pittsburgh Steelers caused a stir by trading a second round selection and a fourth rounder the following season to the Rams for Jerome Bettis. The rest is Hall of Fame history as "The Bus" became the face of the team and helped drive it to six playoff appearances and a Super Bowl XL victory.

In 2003, the Steelers traded up eleven spots in the first round and gave up their third and sixth round picks in that draft to select Troy Polamalu.

In 2006, they gave away their third and fourth round selections to move up seven spots to take WR Santonio Holmes.

Ever since they made that move to nab Holmes back in ‘06, the Steelers have stood pat on their first round selection position.

So, might it be time for another draft day surprise? Free agency could still dictate.

The Carolina Panthers release of Pro-Bowl corner, Josh Norman, set off a flurry of speculation as to whether the Steelers would try and sign him. The Steelers did express interest, but so did a lot of other teams. Eventually, the Redskins signed him to a 5-year, 75 million dollar deal, which is more than the Steelers could afford.

However, the whole situation raised an intriguing question: might the Steelers sign another player lingering in free agency no man’s land just before the draft? 

It turns out that there are a few free agents still without a contract:

Free Agent Possibilities:

One of the most interesting players in this category is defensive back Walter Thurmond. Much has been written about Thurmond’s flirtation with retirement. The obvious question is whether this is just a ploy on Thurmond’s part to entice an NFL team to offer him a lucrative contract. The fact that he hasn’t retired yet indicates that he’s holding open the possibility of returning.

If the Steelers signed him, it could change their draft strategy, enabling them to focus more on other areas that need an infusion of depth.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers is also available. Powers is 28 and played in 82 out of a possible 87 games since being selected in the third round in 2009. Powers recently visited with the Giants, but never signed a contract. He’s a bit on the small side, measuring 5’9" and 190 pounds, but in those 82 starts has totaled 11 interceptions.

Jason Jones is another player on the market who the Steelers already met with. The 6’5" 272 pound defensive end visited with the team in the early portions of free agency, but never signed. He’s still looking for a team and would definitely provide much needed depth and skill along the defensive front.

Other Draft Options:

Is it possible that the Steelers could look to swing a deal in the first round, either trading up or down? Traditionally, they don’t trade up very often, and this year they need as many picks as they can get. It’s unlikely they’d trade away a second or third round selection to move up, particularly when this draft is deep on the defensive side of the ball.

However, they could move in the opposite direction, and it might be worth while to do so. By trading down or even out of the first round, they could pick up an additional pick or two, perhaps an additional third rounder and a fifth to replace the one lost in last year’s Brandon Boykin deal.

It’s always interesting to speculate what the Steelers will do in the days leading up to the draft. This year, more than those in recent memory, there are some moves that could be made...

...perhaps even the next big surprise.