NFL Special Master Stephen Burbank ruled in favor of the Falcons after hearing last week their arguments in their attempts to recoup millions in signing bonus money from suspended quarterback Michael Vick. Burbank’s ruling says that the Falcons are entitled to $19.97 million in bonus money that has been paid to Vick over the past three years since he signed his landmark $130 million deal in December 2004.
The ruling is interesting because it breaks with a previous ruling made by Burbank last year in this case of Ashley Lelie. Burbank ruled that the Denver Broncos could not recoup option bonuses paid to Lelie because they were payments for time already earned. Some experts believed that because that most of the payments made to Vick were in the form of roster bonuses, they would be treated the same as option bonuses.
According to Burbank’s ruling, per the Associated Press, the Falcons are entitled to half of the $7.5 million bonus paid to Vick in December 2004, $13.5 million of the $22.5 million roster bonus paid to Vick the following year, and $2.72 million of the $7 million bonus paid to Vick this past year, totalling to $19.97 million.
In his ruling on the Vick case, Burbank indicated that because Vick’s bonuses were payments for future services, which won’t be earned because of his league-imposed suspension.
The Falcons released a statement today:
“We are certainly pleased with today’s ruling by NFL Special Master Stephen Burbank. 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.”
The NFL Players Association has indicated that they plan to appeal the ruling. Now it will be up to U.S. District Court Judge David Doty in Minneapolis to either overturn or uphold Burbank’s ruling. The that there is no timetable for when a decision will be made by Doty, but it could take months, per the AJC.
If it is upheld and when payments are actually received from Vick, the Falcons would receive credit towards the following year’s salary cap in that amount.