Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Questions of health and depth make free agency and NFL draft critical for Seahawks

Traditionally, the Seahawks’ “business model” views free agency as a means to annually fill areas of immediate need.

The goal is to draft and develop their talent, and then reward the keepers with top salaries.

They did it so well that they filled the core of their roster with draft steals on the way to becoming the conference’s dominant team.

But the days of cheap labor are past, and that core is almost entirely on the costly second contracts — or soon will be when the Seahawks upgrade the contracts of quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.

That can upset the desired balance of salaries between the top earners and youthful bargains.

All of which makes the free-agency period that starts Tuesday trickier, and maybe more important than during the recent season. Because as talented as the Seahawks are, they have holes to fill and questions to answer.

Look at the starters in the Super Bowl for an idea of the significance of free agents. The Seahawks’ entire starting defensive line was comprised of free agents from the past two seasons: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams.

The talent stocked through great drafts in 2010 through 2012 made it obvious that it was going to be tough for more recent draft picks to make the team, let alone contribute.

True enough. Only three players drafted in the past two years were active for the Super Bowl (offensive tackle Justin Britt, tight end Luke Willson, and cornerback Tharold Simon).

Injuries were a large part of sidelining the talent from those draft classes.

And that adds to the difficulty, now, in compiling the shopping list among the market options during free agency and the draft.

With cornerback Byron Maxwell expected to be gone to the Philadelphia Eagles for a big payday as soon as free agency officially opens, the Seahawks are in obvious need of a starting cornerback.

The problem is that the other three secondary starters (Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) played with significant injuries in the Super Bowl, and another, slot corner Jeremy Lane, could be out the longest after a gruesome arm injury.

How many will be healthy in time for training camp? How many will be ready for the start of the season? How much depth can they afford to add to practice with enough defensive backs during minicamps and training camp? Put that at the top of the list.

Cutting veteran Zach Miller saves money, but leaves them short of blocking tight ends. Put that on the list.

Guard James Carpenter becomes a free agent, and the Seahawks might be able to upgrade. So, add guard to the list, along with the need for depth elsewhere along the offensive front that was effective with the run but sketchy in pass protection.

They recently tendered restricted free agent Jermaine Kearse, and previously extended Doug Baldwin, but they’ll still be looking for a big-play wide receiver. Maybe a proven veteran as a cap casualty will be available.

Depth on the defensive line would help, too.

They’ve already been at work, extending running back Marshawn Lynch with a contract that should assure his continued appearance at work. And the shaping of contracts for Wilson and Wagner is surely in the works.

The reputation Seattle has built as a competitive team with a good working environment is a selling point in the market. Kevin Williams called it a motivating factor in signing with the Seahawks before last season. Michael Bennett claimed it was a reason he chose to stay in Seattle.

That allure will come in handy.

Having promising recent draft picks getting healthy is another factor in bolstering the roster.

The defensive line will have quality depth if Jordan Hill and Cassius Marsh can return from injured reserve and continue their advancement.

If the three All-Pro secondary players heal quickly, the depth issues there are minimized.

If 2014 rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood can stay on their feet, it can cure the need for shopping for depth at wide receiver.

If not, the Seahawks have a lot more shopping to do.