Atlanta Falcons  


Falcons finally close out most dramatic era in franchise history


Suspended quarterback Michael Vick still must serve just more than a month before completing a nearly two-year prison sentence on dogfighting charges, but on Friday he did receive some semblance of freedom.

The Atlanta Falcons, who selected Vick first overall in 2001, officially released their one-time star, allowing Vick to sign with any team that might want the fallen Pro Bowler. League rules allow teams to acquire suspended players via trade or free agency, but Vick's availability is far from known as he remains indefinitely suspended.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the only person with the authority to let Vick back into the league, said he won't consider Vick's reinstatement until Vick completes his 23-month sentence July 20. Vick is serving the final weeks of his sentence under home confinement at his house in Hampton, Va.

Paul Spinelli / Getty Images
Michael Vick posted his best statistical season in 2006 -- his last NFL season -- during which he also rushed for 1,039 yards, an NFL record for quarterbacks.
Vick's career statistics

"Everybody already knew Mike would not be playing for the Falcons so he is just taking things one day at a time," Vick's agent, Joel Segal, said.

Vick's release was more of a procedural move than anything as team owner Arthur Blank has said for months that Vick would not be back with the team and that he would either be traded or released. Atlanta failed to find any trade partners, prompting them to cut him and close out the most dramatic era of the franchise's 43-year history.

"We feel his best opportunity to re-engage his football career would be with another club," Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a statement.

According to a league source, Atlanta budgeted for and structured their cap to minimize the impact of the imminent departure of Vick. The Falcons will face a $7.1 million cap hit in 2009 for releasing Vick -- $6.4 million from Vick's salary in 2009 and an additional $680,000 that was accelerated from 2010 upon his release. Vick is completely off Atlanta's financial books after the 2009 season.

The expiration of Vick's prison term ends roughly two weeks before NFL teams start training camp. Should he be re-instated shortly after completing his sentence, he could be eligible at the outset of training camp. Vick has not played since admitting guilt on interstate dogfighting charges in the fall of 2007.

He currently is employed by a construction company and will soon begin working out with a trainer. His time away from the game could cause a protracted re-acclimation to the sport -- if he is allowed to return -- especially if he comes back as a quarterback, which most NFL football personnel types have said is his best position.

Several coaches, general managers and owners have said Vick deserves a second shot in the NFL but the majority of them also said their teams aren't interested. Blank, who said he would vouch for Vick, believes some team would sign the player he once coveted like a son. Vick is now free to sign with any team. However, there's an outside possibility that the former No. 1 overall draft pick could sign with an alternative professional football league such as the Canadian Football League or the new United Football League.

Blank and the Falcons have moved on and are poised to move into the second year of the Matt Ryan era. The quarterback's emergence as the NFL rookie of the year and a highly visible person in the community allowed a franchise and a city whose fibers were frayed by the Vick saga to heal and move on.

Vick is still mired in bankruptcy hearings, which stem from over-stressed debts that could not be settled because of the money he spent and lost as a result of his imprisonment and the nature of the dogfighting charges that prompted many companies Vick endorsed to drop him. A judge recently granted Vick a final extension to come up with a restructuring plan to pay off his debts and emerge from bankruptcy.

One of his creditors is the Falcons, who reached an agreement that Vick repay them between $6.5 and $7.5 million for bonus money Vick received before he pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges.



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