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With no NFL or college football, the baseball playoffs taking a deep breath, just one NHL game and a smattering of preseason NBA games, the timing of the arbitrator in the Michael Vick case was impeccable. The decision of University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank that the Falcons can recoup nearly $20 million from Vick took center stage.

Burbank's rationale was that $20 million of the the approximately $37 million Vick was paid over the last three years in various bonuses was for money to be earned in the future rather than in the past. Vick can't fulfill his contract and earn that money because he's been suspended by the NFL for his bad acts related to dogfighting. The NFL Players Association, which represents Vick's interests, will now appeal to a familiar name in NFL legal skirmishes, Minnesota federal judge David Doty, the jurist who was central to the free agency court battles of the late 1980s and early '90s.

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For Vick, the troubles keep mounting. Two banks are suing him for about $2 million each, he's scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Virginia on Dec. 10 on his dogfighting-related guilty plea, and Virginia also wants to prosecute him on dogfighting charges that can add state prison time to the one to two years he's expected to serve in a federal prison.

For the Falcons, should they be able to recoup the $20 million, they could apply that money to the following season's salary cap and use it to try to rebuild a franchise that's in ruins.

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