Falcons Not Entitled to Vick's Bonus Money, Federal Judge Rules

PHOENIX--A federal judge ruled today that the Atlanta Falcons are not entitled to recoup nearly $20 million in bonus money from suspended quarterback Michael Vick.

U.S. District Judge David S. Doty overturned an earlier ruling that the Falcons were entitled to pursue the money through arbitration.

The Falcons had contended that Vick, who's serving a 23-month federal prison sentence for his role in a dogfighting operation and is on indefinite suspension by the NFL, had violated his contract. The team was attempting to force Vick to return $19.97 million of the $37 million in bonuses in his 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons.

The NFL Players Association argued on Vick's behalf that the Falcons were not permitted to force Vick to return the money under the terms of the sport's collective bargaining agreement, citing a previous case involving the Denver Broncos and wide receiver Ashley Lelie. An arbitrator ruled in that case that a player could not be forced to return money contained in an option bonus in his contract. At issue in Vick's contract was money contained in roster bonuses.

The case first was heard by Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who is the NFL's special master, putting him in charge of resolving disputes between the league and the players' union arising from the collective bargaining agreement. Burbank ruled that the Falcons could pursue the $19.97 million through a non-injury grievance with another arbitrator.

But the union appealed Burbank's ruling to Doty, the federal judge in Minneapolis who oversees the sport's labor deal, and he sided with the union.

By Mark Maske |  February 4, 2008; 12:27 PM ET  | Category:  Falcons , League
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