Federal judge hears Vick appeal on losing roster bonus

11/30/2007 - NFL Michael Vick Atlanta Falcons + more

MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Vick should be allowed to keep nearly
$20 million in bonus money even though his NFL career is on hold
because of his role in a dogfighting operation, a lawyer for the
players' union argued Friday.

The NFL Players Association asked a federal judge to overturn a
special master's decision that Vick should forfeit the bonus money
because of his guilty plea. The former Atlanta Falcons star faces
up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10.

Dogfighting wasn't the issue at Friday's hearing. Instead, the
arguments turned on interpretations of the NFL collective
bargaining agreement.

Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler argued that Vick's "roster
bonus" should be treated the same as a "performance bonus,"
which can't be forfeited under the collective bargaining agreement.

"A roster bonus is a performance bonus," Kessler said,
explaining that Vick earned it simply by being on the Falcons'
roster in 2005 and 2006, and that the money a player earns can't be
taken back under the contract.

But Gregg Levy, representing the NFL, said the roster bonus
should be treated like a "signing bonus allocation," which could
be forfeited.

The term "signing bonus allocation" isn't explicitly defined
in the contract and only appears in it a few times. Pointing to
some language under the salary cap section, Levy argued that it's
similar to a signing bonus, which can be stripped from a player
under certain circumstances. He said that because Vick's roster
bonus had been guaranteed, it shouldn't be treated as if it was
money Vick had earned for meeting performance standards.

District Judge David Doty, who has handled cases involving the
collective bargaining agreement for nearly 20 years, compared
interpreting the relevant section of the contract to "alchemy."
He didn't say how or when he might rule.

Outside the courtroom, players union chief Gene Upshaw said the
union wasn't defending Vick's actions by pursuing the case.

"This is not about Michael Vick. This is not about dogfighting.
This is about interpretation of the contract and what it means,"
he said.

Special master Stephen B. Burbank ruled last month that the
Falcons were entitled to recover $19.97 million in bonuses paid
from 2004 through this year. The Falcons argued that Vick used
proceeds from a $130 million contract he signed in 2004 to finance
his illicit activities.

Any money recovered would be credited to Atlanta's future salary

Separately, two of Vick's co-defendants were sentenced Friday in
Virginia to 18 months and 21 months in prison on federal
dogfighting conspiracy charges. Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and
Purnell Peace of Virginia each had faced the same maximum penalty
that Vick faces.

Vick's troubles started after authorities in Surry County, Va.,
raided his property and seized dozens of dogs and equipment
associated with dogfighting. He eventually admitted bankrolling the
operation and participating in the killing of eight dogs.