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Falcons will ask for Vick to return up to $22 million in bonus money

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons will try to convince an arbitrator the team deserves a refund on up to $22 million in bonus money paid to quarterback Michael Vick.

The Falcons will be represented Thursday by team president and general manager Rich McKay and three more team officials in the private hearing in Philadelphia.

"I don't expect it will go beyond a day," said University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen B. Burbank, the special master who confirmed he will serve as arbitrator of the hearing at the law school.

Attorneys representing the NFL Players Association will argue against the Falcons' claim.

An expert in sports contracts said the Falcons face long odds in their effort to have bonus money returned to the team.

The Falcons are expected to contend that Vick knew he was in violation of the contract when he signed the $130 million deal in December of 2004, and that he used proceeds from the deal to fund his dogfighting operation.

"I think clearly it's a reach on the part of the Falcons," said Jerry Reisman, a contract and business attorney based in Garden City, N.Y. "I think Vick earned that money. He received the roster bonus given out if you are on a roster at any point. He was on the roster in 2004 and earned the money."

Reisman said he has followed the case closely because it is an unusual demand by the Falcons.

"The Falcons are claiming that if they had known of Vick's criminal activity on the date he signed his contract in 2004, they wouldn't have signed the contract and therefore there was fraud," Reisman said.

Reisman said under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, bonus money earned can not be returned.

Reisman said the Falcons are asking for the refund from Vick but haven't in turn offered refunds to their customers.

"I don't know the Falcons have given back season tickets they sold," he said.

McKay was not available for comment Wednesday. Team spokesman Reggie Roberts said McKay is standing by his earlier statements that he would make no comment during the process.

On Aug. 27, Vick admitted helping to kill six to eight dogs and bankrolling the dogfighting operation that was based in Virginia and extended into other states.

Vick also faces new state felony charges in Virginia on two counts -- beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Each felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Vick found more trouble last month when he tested positive for marijuana, a violation of U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson's order that he stay clean in exchange for being allowed to be free.

Hudson ordered Vick can't leave his home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and also must submit to electronic monitoring and random drug testing.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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