Falcons guarantee Vick bonus, creating cap space

ATLANTA -- As anticipated, the Atlanta Falcons have guaranteed a $7 million March roster bonus due quarterback Michael Vick, a move that creates about $5.25 million in additional cap space, and which will help the club squeeze under the NFL's spending limit of $94.5 million by the Thursday night deadline.

The contract extension signed by Vick in December 2004 provided the Falcons the right to make the move, which essentially turns the roster bonus into a signing bonus. Most important to the Falcons, it means that the team can prorate the $7 million bonus over four years and reduce its impact on the 2006 cap.

Atlanta performed a similar maneuver last spring with Vick on a $22.5 million roster bonus.

The bookkeeping transaction has no impact on Vick, since he would have received the $7 million whether it was treated as a roster bonus or as a signing bonus. The five-year veteran and Pro Bowl performer is due to earn a 2006 base salary of $1.4 million.

Vick, 25, signed what amounted to a 10-year, $130 million contract, which runs through 2014, late in the 2004 season. But the final season of the contract has already been voided, making the contract a nine-year deal worth approximately $118 million. The contract, which included an initial signing bonus of $7.5 million, features $37 million in guarantees.

Included in those guarantees was the $7 million roster bonus Vick will collect this month.

Even with the additional cap space created by the maneuver with Vick's contract, the Falcons are tight against the cap and will need to make another move or two to be in compliance with the spending limit when the new league years begins Friday at 12:01 a.m. The club has already restructured the contract of tight end Eric Beverly and could rework the deals of other veterans, such as Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking, although that has not yet occurred.

ESPN.com has confirmed that the Falcons on Thursday will release 10-year veteran defensive end Brady Smith, which will save $2.5 million against the salary cap. Smith, 32, was limited to a career-low five appearances in 2005 because of injuries. He underwent neck surgery in July, which forced him to miss training camp and then, after returning sooner than expected, suffered a foot injury that ended his year.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.