Judge Rules Former Atlanta Falcons Star Michael Vick Can Keep $20M in Bonuses

Jailed quarterback Michael Vick can keep nearly $20 million in bonus money he received from the Atlanta Falcons following a ruling Monday by a federal judge.

The Falcons sought to recover the bonuses after Vick pleaded guilty to federal charges in a dogfighting operation. The bonuses were paid from 2004-2007.

A special master ruled in October that the Falcons were entitled to recover the bonuses. The Falcons argued that Vick used proceeds from a contract he signed in 2004 to finance his illicit activities.

But U.S. District Judge David Doty of Minneapolis ruled that the Falcons' recovering the bonus money would violate the NFL collective bargaining agreement. The agreement does not allow signing bonuses to be forfeited for years a player has already performed.

Arguments turned on interpretations of the collective bargaining agreement. At a November hearing, a union attorney argued that Vick's "roster bonus" should be treated the same as a "performance bonus," which can't be forfeited under the agreement. The league maintained that the roster bonus should be treated like a "signing bonus allocation," which could be forfeited.

Doty ruled that once Vick made the Falcons' 80-man roster, he earned the roster bonuses and the team cannot demand their forfeiture.

Calls left by The Associated Press for representatives of the Falcons and the NFL were not immediately returned on Monday, the morning after the Super Bowl. A spokesman for the NFL Players Association said a statement was being prepared.

Vick received a 23-month jail sentence. He entered a minimum-security prison in Leavenworth, Kan., last month.