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Vick pockets record contract

Michael Vick has become the richest player in the NFL.

The Atlanta Falcons' star quarterback signed a 10-year, $130 million contract extension yesterday that guarantees him a league-record $37 million in bonuses.

"You know, making a commitment says a lot, not just to me, but to our team," Vick said with a smile. "It means a lot to me."

Vick's contract surpasses the $98 million deal Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning signed in March -- although Manning's contract is for seven years. Manning was guaranteed $34.5 million in bonuses.

Falcons general manager Rich McKay and Vick's agent, Joel Segal, began negotiations more than two months ago. They reached an agreement in principle Monday afternoon.

Vick signed the deal 20 minutes before an afternoon news conference to announce the extension.

"A lot of guys come into the league, they bounce around and never really find a home," Vick said. "But I'm very excited to know that I'll be here and have an opportunity to bring a Super Bowl to this city."

The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2001, Vick has a 24-12-1 career record. He is 14-4 since returning from a broken ankle last year, and this season led the Falcons to just the third division title in franchise history.

Atlanta earned a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs following the win over Carolina and Green Bay's loss to Jacksonville. The Falcons (11-3) visit New Orleans Sunday, but Vick missed his second straight practice yesterday after injuring his left (throwing) shoulder in last week's overtime win over Carolina.

According to a league official who requested anonymity, both parties faced a Dec. 31 deadline in which Vick had reached incentives that allowed him to void the 2005 and '06 seasons of the six-year, $62 million contract he signed in 2001. The Falcons had the option of buying back both years to prevent Vick from becoming an unrestricted free agent March 2, but that choice would have charged them a combined $17.25 million against the NFL salary caps of '05 and '06.

Saban on fence
LSU coach Nick Saban kept Miami on hold yesterday, apparently still hesitant about making the leap to the NFL. Saban, who has turned down other chances to join the pros, had not yet responded to an offer he received Wednesday to coach the Dolphins.

Saban told LSU athletic director Skip Bertman he might need until today to decide whether to take over one of the NFL's worst teams. The coach and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, met last evening in Baton Rouge, La., to discuss the offer, Bertman said.

"This is the first chance he's had to sit down with his agent and his wife and really weigh the situation without interruptions or the pressure of other things," Bertman said. "I have no reason to think he's going to hurry things unnecessarily. We have no timetable."

Saban previously has said he'd prefer to resolve the situation by Christmas Day, when LSU travels to Orlando for its Jan. 1 bowl game against Iowa.

Bertman dismissed reports that LSU made Saban a counteroffer. Saban already is the highest-paid coach in college football and in the first year of an $18.45 million, seven-year deal.

Playoff times set
The NFL released starting times for postseason games and the AFC Championship game will be played at 6:30 p.m., meaning a potentially frosty atmosphere if the game is played in Pittsburgh or New England. The NFC title game will begin at 3 p.m. and will be televised by Fox, followed by the AFC contest on CBS. The playoffs begin Jan. 8 with a wild-card-round doubleheader on ABC at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The round continues on Sunday, Jan. 9, with the AFC game at 1 p.m. and the NFC game at 4:30. The divisional playoffs breakdown has an AFC game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday Jan. 15, followed by the NFC game at 8 p.m. The next day, the NFC contest is at 1 p.m. and the AFC at 4:30 . . . Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said he's ready to return from a bruised shoulder. The Rams' offense has totaled one touchdown during the two games he missed. Bulger threw some on Monday, and knew at that point he'd be ready. He resumed practicing yesterday. "I'm 100 percent," Bulger said. "It doesn't matter. If I play bad it doesn't matter, and if I play good it doesn't matter." . . . Bills' running back Willis McGahee, who has a bruised and hyperextended right knee, missed his second straight practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against San Francisco . . . The Cowboys placed starting strong-side linebacker Al Singleton on injured reserve because of an injury in his midsection that's kept him out the past 1 1/2 games. Coach Bill Parcells described the problem as being in Singleton's groin and abdomen . . . The Cardinals signed strong safety Adrian Wilson to a $21 million, five-year contract extension. The deal includes a bonus of between $4.5 million and $5 million.

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