Falcons Make Progress in Vick Bonus Case with Ruling by Special Master

The Atlanta Falcons made legal progress today in their attempt to force suspended quarterback Michael Vick to return $19.97 million of the $37 million in bonus money in his 10-year, $130 million contract.

Stephen Burbank, the NFL's special master, ruled that a precedent set in a previous case involving wide receiver Ashley Lelie and the Denver Broncos does not apply to this case. That clears the way for the Falcons to pursue the bonus money in a non-injury grievance before another arbitrator.

Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, heard arguments in the case on Thursday at the Penn law school and told the parties to expect a decision by the end of this week. He did not specifically award the money to the Falcons but rejected the argument by attorneys for the NFL Players Association, representing Vick, that the Falcons were not entitled to the money based on the Lelie precedent. In that case, it was ruled that the Broncos were not entitled to retrieve money paid to Lelie in the form of an option bonus. The union's attorneys argued before Burbank last week that the Falcons therefore could not force Vick to return a portion of the $29.5 million contained in two roster bonuses in the contract that the quarterback signed in December 2004.

Burbank is in charge of resolving disputes between the league and the players' union arising from the collective bargaining agreement. The union indicated in a written statement that it will appeal Burbank's decision to U.S. District Judge David Doty, who oversees the sport's labor agreement.

"We have reviewed the decision handed down by special master Stephen Burbank and believe it is incorrect," the union said in its statement. "We will now appeal his ruling to Judge Doty in Minneapolis."

Vick is on indefinite suspension by the NFL after pleading guilty to a federal conspiracy charge related to his participation in a dogfighting operation based at a property that he owned in southeastern Virginia. He is to be sentenced on Dec. 10. He also has been indicted on state charges.

The Falcons maintain that Vick is in violation of his contract and should be forced to return the money. The Falcons are seeking $3.75 million of Vick's $7.5 million signing bonus, and $16.22 million of the $29.5 million in the two roster bonuses.

The Falcons issued a written statement that said: "We are certainly pleased with today's ruling by NFL special master Stephen Burbank. It is the first step in a process that our club has undertaken in an attempt to recoup significant salary cap space that will allow us to continue to build our football team today and in future years."

By Mark Maske |  October 9, 2007; 6:37 PM ET  | Category:  Falcons , League
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Where is the nine page document outlining his ruling?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 19, 2007 2:51 PM

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