Arbitrator backs Falcons: Can reclaim $20M in Vick bonus money

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.”

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