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NFLPA to appeal arbitrator's ruling that Falcons can reclaim Vick bonuses

ATLANTA -- Michael Vick has taken another hit -- and this one
could cost him nearly $20 million.

Already facing prison time, the disgraced quarterback lost the
first round in his financial battle with the Atlanta Falcons when
an arbitrator ruled Tuesday that Vick should repay much of the
bonus money he got while secretly bankrolling a gruesome
dogfighting ring.

The case is far from over. The players' union said it will
appeal the ruling by Stephen B. Burbank, a University of
Pennsylvania law professor and special master who oversaw last
week's arbitration hearing in Philadelphia.

The Falcons argued that Vick, who pleaded guilty to federal
charges for his role in the long-running operation, knew he was in
violation of the contract when he signed a 10-year, $130 million
deal in December 2004.

The team said he used proceeds from the contract to fund his
illicit activities and sought the repayment of $19,970,000 in
bonuses he was paid over the last three years.

Any money the Falcons recover from Vick would be credited to its
future salary cap, a huge step in recovering from the loss of the
team's franchise player. Atlanta (1-4) is off to a dismal start
with Joey Harrington at quarterback.

"We are certainly pleased with today's ruling," the Falcons
said in a statement. "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."

In a highly technical, nine-page ruling, Burbank said the
Falcons were entitled to $3.75 million of the $7.5 million bonus
that Vick was paid after signing the deal in 2004, $13.5 million of
the $22.5 million in roster, reporting and playing bonuses he was
paid in 2005 and 2006, and $2.72 million of the $7 million roster,
reporting and playing bonus that he received this year.

Burbank took a different tact than his ruling last year in a
bonus dispute involving former Denver Broncos receiver
Ashley Lelie.

In that case, the arbitrator ordered the Broncos to repay
$220,000 to Lelie, who reportedly had to give up about $1 million
in fines, lost bonuses and a prorated portion of his signing bonus
to get out of the final year of his Denver contract after a dispute
over playing time.

"We have reviewed the decision handed down by Special Master
Stephen Burbank and believe it is incorrect," the NFLPA said in a
statement. "We will now appeal his ruling."

The case goes to U.S. District Court Judge David Doty in
Minneapolis, who still has jurisdiction over the antitrust suit
filed by players following the 1987 strike.

Giving teams more financial leeway than he did in the Lelie
case, Burbank said Falcons were entitled to recover bonuses for
future services that Vick won't be able to earn because of his
dogfighting admission. He was suspended indefinitely without pay by
the NFL, in addition to losing millions in lucrative endorsement
deals.

If upheld, the decision would be a further strain on Vick's
finances.

He already has been sued by an Indiana bank that claims he
failed to repay at least $2 million in loans for a car rental
business, and by a Canadian bank that claims he owes more than $2.3
million for real estate investments.

Of course, Vick has more troubling issues to deal with than
cash-flow problems. He'll be sentenced Dec. 10 in the federal
dogfighting case and is expected to get at least a year in prison.
He's also facing felony dogfighting charges in Virginia, which
carry possible sentences of up to five years each.

In addition, Vick tested positive for marijuana last month,
drawing the ire of the judge who will be sentencing him in
December. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ordered Vick confined to
his Virginia home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. with electronic
monitoring. He also must submit to random drug testing.

Vick's stunning downfall began in late April when authorities
conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided property
that Vick owns in Surry County, Va. Officers seized dozens of dogs,
most of them pit bulls, and equipment associated with dogfighting.

Vick initially denied any knowledge of the enterprise, then
pledged after he was charged that he would fight to clear his name.

After his three co-defendants pleaded guilty, Vick followed suit
in late August and admitted to bankrolling the enterprise and
participating in the killing of eight dogs that performed poorly.
In his only public comment since the admission, Vick took
responsibility for his actions and asked for forgiveness.

"I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out there in the
world who was affected by this whole situation," he said, "and if
I'm more disappointed with myself than anything it's because of all
the young people, young kids that I let down, who look at Michael
Vick as a role model."