||04-25-2005 10:11 AM
Yes!!!! Saints finally sign a LB!!!!!!!!!!!!
Undrafted, but not unwanted
UMD PLAYER: Russ Rabe isn't selected, but lands a free-agent contract with the New Orleans Saints.
BY JON NOWACKI
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
The last time members of the Minnesota Duluth football team traveled to Lake Holcombe, Wis., the mood was somber.
The Bulldogs were in Lake Holcombe in November of 2002 to support teammate and friend Russ Rabe after his father, Mark, died unexpectedly.
On Sunday, Rabe's teammates were in Lake Holcombe to celebrate life and limitless possibilities as part of Rabe's NFL draft party at Flaters Resort.
Rabe wasn't selected, but the party didn't stop there. The New Orleans Saints signed the senior linebacker to a free-agent contract at about 8 p.m. Sunday. Rabe's agent, Harold Lewis, said the contract would pay Rabe about $600,000 over two years if he makes the team, and it included some guaranteed money. Lewis didn't give specifics of Rabe's signing bonus, but said it was close to the $10,000 given to most seventh-round selections.
Rabe, who was named UMD's senior athlete of the year at Sunday's all-sports banquet, described the signing as the exclamation point to what has been a roller-coaster ride for the former football walk-on. In two weeks, he flies to New Orleans for a mini-camp for rookies.
"I graduated with 38 kids in my class, and it's been iron-man football as long as I can remember," Rabe said in a phone conversation Sunday night from Flaters. "The whole town was pretty much at the bar today. There were about 300 people here. It was fun. It was great. Now it's time to relax and enjoy the night."
One can't blame Rabe for wanting to take it easy after what had been a grueling day.
Rounds 1-3 of the draft were Saturday, and rounds 4-7 were Sunday. Rabe was projected to go in the second day or be signed up as preferred free agent. More than 20 former and current UMD players made the 2-hour drive to Lake Holcombe on Sunday for free food and beer. Former kicker Chad Gerlach sold 50 T-shirts, in Bulldog maroon and gold, saying "Draft Rabe."
"We did it to commemorate him and the day," Gerlach said. "I wish we would have ordered 100."
Rabe remained upbeat throughout. While he didn't show it on the outside, he said it was frustrating seeing athletes with similar workout times selected in the draft, such as Tennessee linebacker Kevin Burnett, a second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys.
"It was grueling to watch," Rabe said.
At about 2:15 p.m., the San Diego Chargers notified Rabe that they would draft him with their seventh-round pick, No. 242 overall. It didn't materialize. Then New Orleans, which didn't draft a linebacker on Sunday, called to say they were interested. Rabe later talked to coach Jim Haslett.
But the draft turned to be relatively quiet for linebackers.
Lewis, who represents 40 NFL players, including Bears standout linebacker Brian Urlacher, was working for contracts for 20 more athletes on Sunday.
"A lot of teams told us they had Russ going in the fifth round on their draft boards, but it turned out to be a crazy, crazy draft," Lewis said. "We could have signed with other teams for more money, but we wanted the best situation for Russ.
"Coach Haslett talked to Russ and told him, 'You are my guy.' We're going to love you on special teams and think you can contribute right away.' "
As the draft drew to a close, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. commented on the significance of being a late-round pick.
"Even if you don't make it in the NFL, you can always say you have that association with an organization if you were drafted," Kiper said. "You're in the history books forever."
Rabe won't have that distinction, but as a free agent, he had the freedom to go to a team that gave him the best chance of making the roster.
Lewis worked the phones like an operator in negotiating with NFL clubs. Lewis and Rabe narrowed their options to four teams: New Orleans, Kansas City, San Diego and Tennessee.
Rabe's size (6-foot-2 5/8, 228 pounds) and speed (as low as 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash) are optimal in a 3-4 defensive alignment, but New Orleans runs a 4-3.
"I don't even know what they run, and I don't care. I just know they need linebackers," Rabe said. "They didn't sign anybody, so from what I've gathered, I'm their guy."
Rabe, who played defensive end before his senior year, was part of UMD team's that went 32-13 in the four years he played. The All-American set a UMD career record with 29 quarterback sacks and had 45 tackles for a loss.
"Recruiting is not an exact science," said UMD football coach Kyle Schweigert said, laughing. "One thing you look for in a recruit is character, and obviously, Russ is of a very high character. And that is one of things that helped him develop as a player to where he got this opportunity. This is great exposure for our program and our league."
With his contract already signed, Rabe has one hurdle already cleared, but now comes the hard part: making the team.
"You're taking another man's job," said Washington Redskins veteran offensive lineman Jon Jansen, an analyst for ESPN Sunday. "There's nobody on my team that is going to sit there and say, 'I've played long enough. This guy is really good. I think I'm going to let him take my job.' That's not going to happen."
Rabe seems to understand this, and his small-town work ethic will serve him well as he tries to make the Saints roster. Rabe said that work ethic, not to mention his love of football, was instilled by his father.
"He's my inspiration, and now I know I definitely have a guardian angel watching over me," Rabe said. "Something like this just doesn't happen. Everything had to fall just into the right place."
This guy ought to be great. Wow, I can't wait to get him in the line-up. He should remind us all of Sam Mills. :D