NFL Notebook

Arguments Are Heard on Vick's Bonus Pay

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank heard more than two hours of arguments yesterday regarding the Atlanta Falcons' attempt to force suspended quarterback Michael Vick to return about $20 million in bonuses written into his contract, and told the participants in the hearing that he probably will make a decision in the case by the end of next week.

Burbank 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. His decision can be appealed to U.S. District Judge David Doty, who oversees the sport's labor agreement.

Yesterday's hearing was conducted at the Penn law school and lasted about 2 hours 15 minutes. The Falcons' representatives argued that Vick violated his contract and should be forced to return approximately $20 million of the $29.5 million contained in two roster bonuses in the 10-year, $130-million deal he signed in December 2004.

Lawyers for the NFL Players Association, representing Vick, argued before Burbank that the Falcons are entitled to none of that money, based in large part because of the precedent set in a previous case in which it was ruled that the Denver Broncos could not force wide receiver Ashley Lelie to return money paid to him in the form of an option bonus.

"We had a full opportunity to state our case," Richard Berthelsen, the general counsel for the players' union, said after the hearing. "We emphasized it's just like the Ashley Lelie case we won last year, where Judge Doty ruled an option bonus is money already earned. Logic dictates if an option bonus is money already earned, a roster bonus is, too."

The Falcons also are pursuing a prorated portion of the $7.5 million signing bonus in Vick's contract, the other component of the $37 million in total bonus money in the deal. But that part of the forfeiture claim is being handled in a separate arbitration case.

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 by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. Vick faces a recommended jail term of 12 to 18 months, but Hudson can sentence him to up to five years in prison.

Vick also has been indicated on state dogfighting charges. A Surry County, Va., judge this week scheduled a Nov. 27 hearing to set a trial date. Vick faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the two state felonies. His attorneys have said they will closely examine the issue of whether Vick's rights are being violated by being charged twice with the same crime.

Smith's Status

According to the San Francisco 49ers, orthopedic specialist James Andrews agreed with the initial diagnosis by the team's doctors that quarterback Alex Smith doesn't have to undergo surgery to repair his separated right shoulder. Club officials denied an ESPN report that Smith sought a second opinion from Andrews and might have a serious injury requiring season-ending surgery. According to the 49ers, Andrews studied Smith's MRI exam results as a routine procedure.

The 49ers have indicated they might have a better idea by the end of this week how long Smith will be sidelined. Backup Trent Dilfer is to start this weekend's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Smith was hurt during last weekend's loss to the Seattle Seahawks. . . .

The Carolina Panthers held a players-only meeting Wednesday to discuss the club's uneven start. The Panthers are 2-2 after Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after which defensive tackle Kris Jenkins publicly questioned the team's passion and heart.

Backup quarterback David Carr is playing in place of injured starter Jake Delhomme. . . .

Broncos tailback Travis Henry tested positive for marijuana and is facing a possible one-year suspension by the NFL, KDVR-TV in Denver reported. Henry served a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy in 2005 while with the Titans.

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