By Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports
September 7, 2007
NFL Players Association attorney Richard Berthelsen said Friday an arbitration hearing will take place Oct. 4 in Philadelphia as the Atlanta Falcons seek to recoup money from quarterback Michael Vick. The Falcons requested that the hearing be expedited in their effort to recover at least $20 million in bonus money paid to Vick, who was suspended indefinitely last month after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting and gambling charges.
The case will be heard by special master Stephen Burbank, who ruled in a similar case involving former Denver Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie last November. Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania law school, is expected to make his decision within a week after the hearing. The Falcons are then expected to cut Vick, according to sources.
Vick was paid $37 million in bonus money as part of a 10-year, $130 million contract extension he signed in 2004. Of that, $7.5 million was in signing bonus. The remaining $29.5 million was in roster bonuses that were eventually guaranteed.
Berthelsen has said the union will argue that the roster bonuses canâ€™t be recovered because they are, by definition, performance bonuses. By contrast, a signing bonus can be recovered if a player retires or is suspended before the end of a contract because that type of bonus is a de facto guarantee that a player will fulfill the contract.
It is the unionâ€™s belief that the most the Falcons can recover is $3.75 million, which is the remaining share of prorated signing bonus on the contract.
Berthelsen said previously the union believes that the roster bonuses are protected under a combination of two decisions. Last year, Burbank ruled in the case of Lelie that an option bonus could not be recovered by the team since the payment was performance based. However Lelie, who did not report for the Broncos' offseason program or training camp in 2006 and was subsequently dealt to the Falcons, was later ordered to pay back a portion of his signing bonus.
Additionally, a 1986 decision in a dispute between the Minnesota Vikings and former quarterback Steve Bono ruled that a roster bonus could not be recovered for the same reason, Berthelsen said.
In addition to the Vick case, Burbank is scheduled to hear a similar case between the San Diego Chargers and former linebacker Steve Foley. The Chargers are seeking to recover a little more than $3.75 million from Foley, whose career was ended a year ago when he was shot by an off-duty police officer in suburban San Diego.
The Chargers are seeking to recover $1.25 million in signing bonus and roster bonuses of $1.65 million and $875,000 which were paid in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
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