Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Seahawks win at free agency by staying out of it

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, and general manager John Schneider, right, made their biggest moves of the year’s NFL free agency by keeping quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner out of it.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, and general manager John Schneider, right, made their biggest moves of the year’s NFL free agency by keeping quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner out of it. The Associated Press

Almost every day, somebody online grades NFL teams on their moves in free agency.

It’s a dubious concept because the one obvious way to win at free agency these days is to stay out of it.

In some cases, you do that by getting ahead of it.

As Seahawks GM John Schneider pointed out at the owners’ meetings this week, this year’s free-agency maintenance started last summer when they committed roughly $130 million on early contract extensions for quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner.

These are the cornerstone players on each side of the ball.

Just imagine what this spring would have been like if either of these guys had hit the open market, giving the rest of the league had the chance to bid on them.

Think that might have kept Twitter busy?

Like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and a few other players who have made themselves irreplaceable — or as close as you can get in the salary-cap era — Wilson and Wagner were locked up early.

Here’s how it works: If you build a roster wisely over time, your draft picks develop and you eventually reward the ones who can perform to the value of an elite contract, and let some other team overpay the rest of them as you plug in new, young guys at their spots.

For the Seahawks, it’s like owners and trainers on the backstretch of a horse track. If you’ve got a stakes-quality thoroughbred, you don’t risk him getting snatched away from you in a claiming race.

You protect your most valuable property. You keep the ones you can’t afford to lose.

It’s not fun for them to lose homegrown free agents like Russell Okung or Bruce Irvin or a few others who have departed, but they were deemed valuable up to a point.

The Seahawks have benefited from the occasional veteran free-agent acquisitions in the persons of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Ahtyba Rubin. No question. But they were pulled in originally with short-term, show-us contracts and earned their second deals with their performances and effort.

But cornerback Cary Williams was a bust last season, in one of those cases where some of the expected young replacements (Tharold Simon, Jeremy Lane) weren’t healthy enough to develop into the vacancy left by the expendable free agent Byron Maxwell, who made big money elsewhere.

Lane was one of the free agents the Seahawks kept this spring, surely learning the lesson of the Williams experiment, that it’s hard to come in from elsewhere and master the techniques required by the Legion of Boom secondary.

But it’s also been hard for a veteran free agent to come in and earn a spot on the offensive line. The list of futile attempts over recent seasons is distressing.

And this time, the Hawks have allowed their two most experienced starters, Okung and guard J.R. Sweezy, to take deals with other teams. That’s turning over 40 percent of the starters on a line that was seen as the least consistent unit on the team.

The offsetting moves were to bring in free agents Bradley Sowell and J’Marcus Webb. Both are large, neither is a certain upgrade.

It adds to the pressure to hasten the development of last year’s drafted trio of Mark Glowinski, Terry Poole and Kristjan Sokoli. Glowinski showed potential in one rookie start when filling in for a concussed Sweezy.

And right tackle Garry Gilliam is going to get the chance to swap sides and take over Okung’s spot.

There’s still the likelihood of drafting more talent up front, but tossing a rookie into the mix can be a dangerous risk.

We may assume, going on past form, that line coach Tom Cable and the Seahawk scouts are scouring colleges for defensive linemen they can try to turn into blockers for Russell Wilson.

It’s part of the protocol they’ve constructed. Its efficacy remains in debate.

But somehow, in spite of sketchy line play, Wilson has stayed healthy and the running attack has been one of the best in the NFL.

So, second-guessing at this point is hard, mostly because there certainly wasn’t much out there in the way of bargains in free agency.

But that’s something they’ve known for a long time.