Total package is biggest in NFL history

ATLANTA -- The NFL's most exciting player is now its most expensive.

After agreeing in principle earlier in the day to a contract extension, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on Thursday afternoon signed what essentially becomes a lifetime deal, all but ensuring he will play his entire career here. The extension has been in the works for some time, with agent Joel Segal hinting to ESPN.com several weeks ago that he was ready to bargain, and talks accelerated this week.

The Falcons may not play Vick in Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, because of a shoulder injury that is not considered serious, but they will pay more than enough for their star to finish off any last-minute Christmas shopping he still has remaining.

The deal adds eight more seasons to the two years remaining on the original six-year contract that Vick signed in 2001 as the NFL's first overall draft choice that year. But the eighth year of the extension will void, providing Vick reaches minimum playing time levels in any year before that, essentially making it a seven-year extension that binds him to the Falcons through the 2013 season.

In terms of total dollars, ESPN.com has learned the contract can be worth as much as $130 million, which will reduce to approximately $118 million-$120 million once the final year of the extension is voided. Even at the reduced rate, the deal represents the biggest in NFL history.

Between the initial signing bonus and a second-tier roster bonus, Vick is guaranteed $37 million. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning received a $34.5 million signing bonus with his new contract 10 months ago.

An interesting element to Vick's signing and roster bonuses: ESPN.com has learned that the bonuses are guaranteed for both football and non-football injuries. So if Vick suffers a career-ending injury away from the field, he will still collect the $37 million in bonuses. That is believed to be the largest fully-guaranteed bonus in league history.

Two league sources, both outside the Falcons organization, confirmed the parameters of the contract on Thursday evening.

"This is where I want to be," said Vick, the first overall choice in the 2001 draft. "This is where I want to win championships. I'm committed to this football team and, obviously, the Atlanta Falcons are committed to me. I can't thank (owner) Mr. (Arthur) Blank, and (general manager) Rich McKay, and (coach) Jim Mora enough. I'm going to try to do everything I can to fulfill their faith in me."

Quantifying such high-priced contracts is often ticklish, since most deals of such major magnitude are typically restructured after a few seasons. Quarterbacks Brett Favre of Green Bay and Drew Bledsoe, playing in New England at the time, also signed deals of more than $100 million in the past. Manning's contract is valued at $98 million, but there will be alterations to it down the road, as well.

Since the structure of Vick's contract is not yet known, nor the annual salary cap values, it can only be judged for now on its overall total value and the unique nature of the bonus payments to him.

Vick suggested that many of the key elements of the contract were agreed to following the Falcons' overtime victory against Carolina last Saturday night. But less than an hour before a late afternoon press conference to announce the contract, Segal and the Falcons were still consulting with the NFL Management Council to gain approval of some of the unusual language in the deal.

There were, Segal acknowledged, a few dicey moments.

"Hey, it's an unusual contract for a unique player, so you're going to have some things in there that are creative," Segal said. "Everybody had to think outside the box a little to get it done. We started working on this contract months ago. And then, given the Pro Bowl performance of Michael, and the team winning the division championship, Arthur Blank and Rich McKay really stepped up. But, yeah, there were a few nervous moments there where we had to make sure that everyone was protected."

A key component to completing the contract is that it was struck two years before the sides really had to begin negotiations. Contrary to published reports, Vick would not have been an unrestricted free agent following the 2004 season. He had, indeed, reached some performance thresholds that allowed him to void the 2005 and 2006 seasons remaining on his original six-year, $62 million deal. But that contract included a so-called "buy back" provision which allowed the Falcons to reinstate those contract years by paying Vick another signing bonus.

Said one team official: "No way was he ever getting onto the open market. No way."

The proposal was also hard to ignore, said once source close to Vick, because of the nature of the quarterback's playing style. Vick puts himself into harm's way perhaps more than any other player at the position and so the guaranteed money was crucial for him.

Vick, 24, was named this week to his second Pro Bowl. The former Virginia Tech star has started 35 of 42 games in his career and has completed 506 of 948 passes for 6,584 yards, with 35 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions. But while he remains a work in progress in terms of advancement at the quarterback position, there is no doubt Vick is a premier playmaker.

He has rushed for 2,210 yards and 13 touchdowns and could become, over the final two games of the season, the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards. Vick needs 110 yards in two games to crack the 1,000-yard barrier.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.