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Falcons hold off on suspending Vick until NFL completes probe

ATLANTA (AP) -Hanging in Arthur Blank's opulent headquarters is a signed photograph of his star quarterback breaking away from a defender, a memento of happier times for the Atlanta Falcons.

"To: Arthur. Thanks for everything. Michael Vick. #7."

Well, it looks as if that picture may soon be coming down.

The Falcons said Tuesday they wanted to suspend Vick over dogfighting allegations, and their owner left open the possibility that the guy who helped sell out Georgia Dome every week, got one of the biggest contracts in NFL history and became the face of the franchise has played his final game for Atlanta.

"This sort of behavior is really horrific," Blank said in the team's first public comment since Vick was indicted last week on federal charges related to dogfighting. "This is not the player or the person that I knew the last six years."

The team already is taking steps to distance itself from Vick. During a luncheon for season-ticket holders earlier in the day, a condensed version of the 2006 highlight film did not show him at all, even though he became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards.

When the Falcons open training camp Thursday, Vick is scheduled to be in Richmond, Va., for his arraignment. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred the quarterback from attending camp while the league looks into the ugly accusations, a compromise worked out by the league, the team and the player's union.

The Falcons wanted to suspend Vick for four games, the stiffest punishment a team can deal out for detrimental conduct. Goodell could hand down a yearlong suspension under the league's new player conduct code.

"We were pursuing the maximum discipline," said Blank, joined at a news conference by general manager Rich McKay and new coach Bobby Petrino. "We had gone so far as to draft the letter. But the commissioner asked us not to take action until they completed their review."

The Falcons considered all options, including the possibility of releasing Vick. Most tellingly, Blank said he would encourage the quarterback to give up any thoughts of playing while the case is pending, even if it means sitting out the entire season.

"This is not about playing football in 2007," Blank said. "This is a very difficult process he'll be going through over the next couple of months. It's very difficult to do that and focus on football at the same time."

Goodell weighed in on Vick's case during a news conference with NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw in Washington, where the two discussed an alliance to help former players.

"Let me make it very clear that the National Football League is very disappointed that Michael put himself in this position," Goodell said. "In no way do we think that dogfighting or anything related to dogfighting is acceptable. We think it's despicable, frankly."

As for why he blocked an immediate suspension against Vick, Goodell said the league needed more time to investigate.

"It is very emotional for all of us," he said. "But we have to remember that we are still at a state where these are charges. These are allegations."

Goodell already suspended Adam "Pacman" Jones of the Tennessee Titans for the entire 2007 season. Chris Henry of Cincinnati and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson were given eight-game suspensions for various run-ins with the law.

Clearly, the Falcons did not want to begin training camp with a quarterback who was under federal indictment. They now consider Joey Harrington the starter and are turning their focus to finding a backup. Vick isn't on the radar.

"We have to go in and prepare like we're going to be without him," Petrino said.

In April, investigators raiding a home owned by Vick in rural Virginia reported finding evidence of dogfighting. At first, he denied any connection to the house, blaming friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity. Since then, he's refused to comment on the case.

Blank said he was deeply disturbed by the allegations, making a point to say that he counted Vick's name some 50 times in the 18-page indictment. Vick and three associates are accused of killing dogs if they weren't strong enough to fight, with gruesome methods that included hanging, drowning, shooting and electrocution.

"There was no indication, no signs, no whispers that Michael could be involved in any of this kind of behavior," McKay said.

PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - and the Humane Society of the United States both praised the Falcons for their willingness to suspend Vick.

"Given Vick's high profile and his position to influence young people, it's imperative that he not don the Falcons uniform and take his place on the field of play until - and unless - he can clear himself of these awful accusations," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society.

In 2004, the Falcons signed Vick to the richest contract in NFL history at the time, a 10-year extension worth approximately $130 million. At the time, Blank said the deal would allow Vick to play his entire career in Atlanta.

Now, there's a distinct possibility that Vick's career with the Falcons is over, even though the team would take a debilitating salary cap hit over the next two years if he's released. Vick's salary this season is $6 million.

"This is a football team, not a circus," Blank said. "We need to prepare for the season."

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.

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