- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

ATLANTA | Less than five years after the Atlanta Falcons signed Michael Vick to a $130 million contract, the suspended quarterback was released in a 98-word statement.

Before Friday’s announcement - a move that clears Vick to sign with any NFL team - general manager Thomas Dimitroff called the team’s former franchise player.

Dimitroff said Vick, who has missed two seasons while serving a prison sentence for running a dogfighting ring, deserved to hear about his release first. He said Vick “was upbeat” in the short conversation and was looking forward to moving on.

“Respect him as an individual and as an athlete in this profession,” Dimitroff said. “It was the right thing to do, and I’m happy that we had a conversation today.”

Dimitroff said releasing Vick allows the Falcons “to have a clean slate going into the summer” and allows Vick the freedom to negotiate with other teams.

“It was about being positive,” Dimitroff said. “It was about moving forward.”

Vick is eligible to sign with a team even though he has not been reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The Falcons’ move was no surprise.

“Everybody always knew that Mike wouldn’t be playing with the Falcons,” said Vick’s agent, Joel Segal. “He’s really just taking it one day at a time.”

The NFL had no comment on Vick’s release. Goodell has said he will sit down with Vick after the quarterback completes his 23-month sentence July 20 for running a dogfighting ring.

“Michael’s going to have to demonstrate to myself and the general public and to a lot of people, did he learn anything from this experience? Does he regret what happened? Does he feel that he can be a positive influence going forward?” Goodell said last month. “Those are questions that I would like to see when I sit with him.”

Vick, once the highest-paid player in the NFL, is making $10 an hour as a construction worker while he serves the final two months of his sentence on home confinement in Hampton, Va. He was released from federal prison in Kansas on May 20.

Atlanta had long since turned the page on Vick. The Falcons made quarterback Matt Ryan the No. 3 pick in last year’s draft. Ryan started every game as a rookie and led the Falcons to the playoffs.

Vick was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and led the Falcons to the 2005 NFC championship game.

Dimitroff said the release came only after the team was unable to trade Vick’s rights. Any team that pursues Vick must try to determine how two years away from the game will affect his conditioning and skills. Vick will celebrate his 29th birthday June 26.

“There were a number of teams that were open to discussion, but at the very end without mentioning the teams they just felt like it was not the right time to do it for them, and we just decided to move forward,” Dimitroff said.

The Falcons could not even land a draft pick for the player who had been the figurehead for the organization. Dimitroff said no team gave him an indication of plans to pursue Vick after he was released, but Dimitroff said “I’m sure there will be interest.”

“As we all know, Mike is an exceptional athlete and he has the ability to play in this league again, and I’m sure he probably will,” Dimitroff said.

The New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns said they had no interest in Vick, and the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills declined comment.

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