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Winners, losers from the NFL lockout

Fans wait outside the NFL Players Association headquarters in Washington AP

We have broken down the deal.  Now let’s look at who escaped this lockout slog looking good, and who didn’t.

The Winners

Veteran NFL players: They missed an offseason of minicamps and practices, which should make it easier to fend off young players in camp this year.  More importantly, they will get a bigger slice of the salary cap pie.

Top rookies will make far less in this new CBA, and that money will go to veterans.  Getting NFL teams to agree to a very aggressive “salary cap floor” also guarantees NFL revenue will be spent back on the players.

For example, teams have to spend to 99% of the salary cap as a league this year.  The lowest any team can spend is 89% of the cap.  These are huge increases from previous floors that will guarantee small market teams spend aggressively.

Players you’ve never heard of: Minimum salaries of players will go up $50,000, which is a substantial increase.  Almost half the league has minimum salary contracts.  The players did right by their right by the rank and file.

Bank accounts of NFL owners: The NFLPA* was playing defense all along.  We essentially knew ahead of time the owners would leave this lockout with a larger share of total revenue, and that is the case.

The players made advances in other issues like safety and a salary cap floor, but ultimately the owners will now get a greater share of a rapidly growing revenue pool.  This can be a “win-win” deal, but there’s no debate the owners will get more money in this CBA than the one that came before it.

That was the entire idea behind the lockout.

Small market teams: Yes, they have to spend more to get to the salary cap floor.  They also will get more revenue sharing help from the top-earning teams in the league.

Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth: These two leaders from the NFLPA* earned a lot of respect.

Mediator Arthur Boylan: Sure, the biggest breakthrough happened when he was on vacation.  Boylan still kept the union and NFL moving forward during choppy waters.  He helped to finish the job mediator George Cohen could not.

A special thanks to …

Patriots owner Robert Kraft: No owner did more to bring the two sides together and compromise than Patriots owner Robert Kraft. That he did it against the backdrop of his wife’s battle with cancer makes his contributions all the more remarkable.

Colts center Jeff Saturday’s remarks after the agreement said it all.

Gets his own category

DeMaurice Smith: Fans may disagree, but we suspect history will show Smith did well by his players.  Let’s face it: The NFLPA* is always going to be an underdog in labor talks.  They have fewer resources and they were playing defense.

Smith took over a difficult situation and slowly earned the respect of his players and adversaries in ownership.  He didn’t give up that much and got plenty in return for financial concessions.  Most importantly, he helped get to the finish line without missing significant time in training camp or the preseason.

The lockout was caused by owner unhappiness at a time of unprecedented prosperity in the league. They locked the players out, which has to count for something.  Both sides were at fault for taking fans for granted throughout the process, and dragging this out longer than necessary.  That’s why Smith isn’t a “winner” but someone that earned respect.

Losers

The 18-game concept: It will eventually be a matter of debate again, but not for at least two years.  This was a big issue for the players, and they didn’t budge.

Roger Goodell: We think Goodell is a very good commissioner with the best interests of the game at heart. But there’s no denying he’s been beaten up over the last few months.  Player anger towards him became significant.  A perception grew that he couldn’t control his owners. (We’re not sure anyone could.)

Goodell’s efforts to end the lockout cannot be underestimated.  But this is a results business: Goodell presided over the longest work stoppage in league history.  In the long run, people will view the 2011 lockout as a speed bump for a wildly successful league.  In the short run, the NFL can’t have it both ways.

They have sold the concept to fans on NFL Network that the “season never ends.” It ended for five months this year, running the league’s biggest fans through an emotional ringer.

This lockout came primarily as a money grab at a time of unprecedented success for the league. Considering the economic climate the lockout took place in, Goodell takes a short-term hit.

Hardcore coaches: Practice contact will be reduced dramatically in the regular season. Offseason practices will also be cut down, with big fines for coaches who break the rules.

“The only thing the players didn’t get is someone else to play for them,” one source told PFT.

Highly-drafted rookies: This especially applies to top ten picks.  No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton is slated to get roughly $22 million over the next four years.  For comparison’s sake, last year’s top pick Sam Bradford got $50 million guaranteed and $72 million over his first six years.

First-round picks outside the top-16 picks will take a hit, but it’s not as dramatic.  Players taken in rounds two-through-seven may actually benefit because of the minimum salary increase.

All 2011 rookies: It will be harder for quarterbacks like Newton or Minnesota’s Christian Ponder to win starting gigs and succeed in camp after missing the entire offseason.  This will especially hurt late-round picks and undrafted players that now seem more likely to be cut.

Undrafted players:  With the per-team signing bonus expenditure limited to $75,000 per team for undrafted players, these rookies will no longer be able to tell prospective teams to put their money where their mouths are.

Agents: They are taking a hair cut on fees for rookie contracts, which are already headed South.  Anti-holdout measures for rookies will also be taken, which takes away a leverage point for agents.

Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb: Perhaps the Bengals could have traded Palmer before the 2011 draft. Now it appears he may spend the 2011 season at home because he refuses to play for Cincinnati.  The Bengals probably won’t entertain trading him until 2012.

McNabb would not still be a member of the Redskins if not for the lockout. With five highly drafted rookies getting taken, the market for him has been significantly diminished. His exorbitant bonus isn’t due until September, which means the Redskins may fruitlessly try to trade him for a while.  More jobs will be filled in the meantime.

Vincent Jackson: Fans won’t forget that Jackson was the last Brady antitrust plaintiff to give up on squeezing the NFL for more cash in exchange for his signature.  We don’t think it’s fair to call the players “greedy” throughout much of the process, but Jackson, Logan Mankins, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning took a P.R. hit by seeking extra benefits for attaching their name to the antitrust case.

NFL fans: The players and owners take us for granted because they can.  We just want football, and we support the league completely. It was an insane act of hubris for the NFL to threaten to take the game away when it was at its very peak. The league isn’t likely to pay for it.

Rich Eisen from NFL Network put it well: “Love all these fans saying now we missed nothing when my twitter feed has been filled for 4 months MFing everyone involved in this process.”

The more you love the game, the more these last five months have been difficult to swallow.

The lucky part: We won’t have to go through this again for at least another decade.

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Dominique Easley among nine placed on PUP/NFI lists by Patriots

Dominique Easley Getty Images

Former first round pick Dominique Easley is among nine players placed on either the physically unable to perform or non-football injury lists by the New England Patriots on Monday.

Easley landed on injured reserve last December after suffering a knee injury. He did not have surgery this offseason but still missed all of the team’s offseason workouts this summer. Easley was one of eight to be placed on the PUP list by New England.

In addition, linebacker Dane Fletcher, defensive tackle Chris Jones, wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Matt Slater, defensive tackle Vince Taylor, center Ryan Wendell and linebacker Chris White were also placed on PUP on Monday.

Quarterback Matt Flynn was placed on the non-football injury list.

Players on PUP/NFI count against the 90-man roster limit and can be activated any time during the preseason.

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NFL should inflate all balls to 13.0 PSI before kickoff

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The NFL’s rules regarding football inflation amount to the ultimate “it was like that when I got here” proposition, with the required range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI something that has passed through the generations, with no clear understanding as to why the footballs should be within that specific limit.

For the first time ever, a league that ordinarily obsesses over shoe color and whether a guy’s knees are visible under his pants has tweaked the rules regarding air pressure. The NFL needs to tweak them even more.

The new rule still allows teams to submit the 12 balls they’ll use on offense at either end of the spectrum — even though it’s now known that the footballs at 12.5 PSI on cold day and footballs at 13.5 PSI on a hot day will move beyond compliance. The gamble teams will now face is that, if the balls they submit go beyond the range, the officials will re-calibrate the balls not to the team’s preferred number but to 13.0 PSI.

So why not just put all balls at 13.0 PSI in the first place? if this is such an important rule (as #DeflateGate would have everyone believe), the footballs need to be within the 12.5-to-13.5 range not just at kickoff but throughout the entire game. Putting them at 13.0 gives them room to move in either direction based on the elements.

It also could be argued that the balls should be set higher than 13.0 on a cold day and lower than 13.0 on a warm day, to fully account for the operation of the Ideal Gas Law. Even better, the footballs should be recalibrated to the kickoff number at halftime, to ensure compliance for 60 minutes with such a supposedly critical rule.

Just how critical is the rule? If it were as critical as the league’s handling of #DeflateGate would have anyone believe, the new procedures wouldn’t allow footballs at the high end of the range to be used under warm conditions or footballs at the low end to be used under cold conditions. In either case, the footballs will quickly be beyond the required limits.

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Vikings looking to extend training camp deal with Minnesota State-Mankato

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While the Minnesota Vikings are getting ready to move into a brand new regular season home in downtown Minneapolis, the team is looking to extend its preseason arrangements in Mankato.

According to Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Vikings are negotiating with Minnesota State University to extend their training camp contract with the university. The current deal between the two sides expires at the end of this year’s training camp.

“With the facilities here and us having 90 players at Winter Park, it would be tough,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “So I do think that the situation we’re in right now is the best for us to get ready as a football team.”

“I think Mankato does a great job of helping us feel welcome and the university here, as well,” he said. “At this particular time, I believe that this is the best way to go for us.”

It is the Vikings’ 50th year spent preparing for the season at the Division II school southwest of the Twin Cities.

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Settlement talks continue in Brady case

AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Getty Images

Last Tuesday, PFT reported that the NFL and NFL Players Association had engaged in settlement talks in connection with the Tom Brady suspension. Since then, multiple other similar reports have emerged.

Most recently, multiple reports have indicated that talks have resumed, in the wake of the NFLPA reportedly offering that Brady would consider an outcome entailing no suspension but including a fine. (That’s not an admission of guilt by Brady.)

It remains unlikely that an agreement will be reached, because Brady by all appearances is poised to fight tooth and nail for a zero-game suspension. Likewise, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has no good way out of the corn maze (absent the use of teeth and/or nails), with anything less than a four-game suspension opening him up to criticism both internally and externally.

Either way, the Patriots need a decision before they open training camp on Thursday, because they need to know whether and to what extent backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should be prepared to play in September.

There’s still a chance Brady ultimately will play in September, either because he wins in court before Week One or because a court presses pause on any suspension until the litigation is resolved.

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Robert Mathis not cleared for camp

Mathis Getty Images

The big news on the Monday after the start of the 2015 regular season would have been the torn Achilles suffered by Colts linebacker Robert Mathis while working out on his own during a four-game PED suspension, but for the whole Ray Rice video thing.

Nearly a year later, Mathis still isn’t ready to return to practice. And it’s still not clear when he will be.

“The good news is Robert is trending in the right direction,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said Monday, via Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “We’re all very excited and pleased with the progress that he’s making. The timetable is unknown. Will it be October 15? Will it be September 15? . . . At this point, no one knows.”

Mathis has vowed to be back for Week One.

“We just want to make sure that he’s ready-ready when it’s time to go,” Irsay said. “He can come in, have a couple of years with us at this point in his career, and be the difference-maker he was.”

Two years ago, he was a difference maker indeed, with 19.5 sacks. At 34, he still may have some gas in the tank.

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Four more days for Seahawks, Wilson talks

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More than a week ago, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported that the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson will pull the plug on contract negotiations if a deal isn’t done before training camp opens. On Monday, John Clayton and Jim Trotter of ESPN reported the same thing, with different words.

The real news (sort of) comes from the notion that the Seahawks are willing to pay Wilson a contract “worth slightly less” than the contract given earlier this year to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who averages $21.85 million in new money. Over the weekend, both Rapoport and PFT reported that the Seahawks’ current offer is in the range of $21 million per year.

The sticking point, as Rapoport reported, arises from the signing bonus and guaranteed money. Wilson’s agent, Mark Rodgers, has represented baseball players exclusively in recent years, and their contracts are always fully guaranteed. The NFL has resisted bringing that trend to pro football, hiding behind the rule that requires future guarantees to be fully funded at signing. (Seahawks owner Paul Allen, the richest owner in the NFL, can afford to do that.)

Although the deadline is artificial, if the two sides regard it as real, there’s a good chance a deal will be done. A separate item from Clayton adds more beef to the notion that Wilson should consider taking the best offer the team makes now, since he’d replace his $1.5 million salary for 2015 with a much higher compensation package — driving up dramatically the new-money average.

If, for example, Wilson signs a four-year, $100 million deal in 2016 (a $25 million annual average), he will have made $101.5 million over five years, an average of only (only?) $20.3 million.

Clayton also points out that, in order to make what the Seahawks are willing to give Wilson now, he’d need a deal worth $26 million per year next year.

It’s all the more reason for Rodgers to keep squeezing the Seahawks as much as he can, ultimately taking the best offer, whatever it may be. But if Rodgers and Wilson eventually reject the best offer the Seahawks are willing to make now, the message will be that Rodgers and Wilson are looking for a lot more later.

They’ll need it, because they’ll have to make up for nearly $20 million that Wilson will have lost by not doing a deal in 2015.

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Cardinals hire league’s first female assistant, also Levon Kirkland

female-player-1 AP

The NFL is adding its first full-time female official this season, and one team is breaking another barrier during training camp.

Via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals are hiring Jen Welter for a coaching position through training camp and the preseason, making her what is believed to be (and almost certainly) the first female to hold a coaching position of any kind in the NFL.

They’re also hiring former Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland as the inaugural participant in the Bill Bidwill Coaching Fellowship, and that’s great.

But the news here is a female coach, at a time when Sarah Thomas is about to go to work for the league in stripes, and when Becky Hammon just coached the NBA San Antonio Spurs’ summer league team after spending last year as an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff.

“I wanted to open that door,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Coaching is nothing more than teaching. The one thing I’ve learned from players: all they want to know is ‘How you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t [care] if you’re the Green Hornet. I’ll listen.’

“I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity through this internship to open some doors.”

Arians said after checking with several veteran players, ‘they were all cool” and added: “It’s not going to be a distraction in any way.”

Welter will work with the inside linebackers, and she’ll bring a unique background. In 2014, she played running back and special teams for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution, becoming the first female to play a non-kicking position in a men’s pro football league. This spring, she was hired to coach linebackers and special teams.

She played rugby at Boston College, and has played women’s football at several levels. The 37-year-old also holds a master’s degree in sport psychology and a PhD in psychology.

Kirkland’s position is a two-year gig as part of the fellowship, and reunites him with a number of former Steelers with the Cardinals. On its own, it’s a significant piece of news, and furthers Bidwill’s commitment to creating minority opportunities in the NFL.

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Rams sign Isaiah Battle

Battle Getty Images

When the Colts signed a pair of third-round picks on Friday, all 2015 draft picks were under contract. On Monday, the entire 2015 supplemental draft class agreed to terms.

It was a class of one.

The Rams have announced that Clemson tackle Isaiah Battle is under contract, 18 days after being taken in the fifth-round of the supplemental selection process.

The Rams gave up their corresponding pick for 2016 to get Battle, and they undoubtedly gave Battle a slotted contract based on the contract given to the player taken in the same spot during the regular 2015 draft.

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Lawyer: HOF told Seau family that Sydney could speak

No.55 jersey seen on display at Qualcomm Stadium as part of "Celebration of Life" memorial, held in memory of Seau in San Dieg Reuters

The Seau family members are OK with the Hall of Fame’s policy on posthumously-inducted players. Unless they aren’t.

Seau family lawyer Steve Strauss has issued a statement to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal in which Strauss says Seau’s family still objects to the decision to prevent Seau’s daughter from speaking at the upcoming induction ceremony.

“The Seau family appreciates the overwhelming support for Sydney Seau to be able to accept Junior’s induction into the Hall of Fame live and in her own words,” Strauss said. “Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame is unwilling to reverse its decision despite communicating to the family earlier this year that Sydney would be able to speak at the ceremony. Contrary to the most recent statement by the Hall of Fame, the family does not support the current policy that prevents family members from delivering live remarks on behalf of deceased inductees. However, the Seau family does not want this issue to become a distraction to Junior’s accomplishments and legacy or those of the other inductees. The Seau family never intended to use the Hall of Fame as a platform to discuss the serious mental health issues facing the NFL today which are most appropriately addressed in a legal forum. The Seau family looks forward to celebrating Junior’s extraordinary accomplishments at the Hall of Fame.”

Although the end result is still the same — the Seau family is accepting the policy — the suggestion from Strauss that the Hall of Fame previously told the Seau family that his daughter, Sydney, would be able to speak is news. And it conflicts directly with the five-year-old policy that the Hall of Fame adopted in 2010.

It’s no surprise that Strauss released the statement. Eventually, he may be trying to persuade a jury as to the merits of Seau’s wrongful-death case. Everyone in the jurisdiction where the case would be tried is a potential juror, and if they feel better about the Seau family and/or worse about the NFL now, that could come in handy later.

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Irsay: I have not talked to Goodell about Deflategate since January

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Colts owner Jim Irsay says he isn’t trying to get NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to deny Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s appeal of his Deflategate suspension.

Shortly after Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti denied lobbying Goodell to uphold Brady’s four-game suspension, Irsay offered a similar denial.

“That’s not true at all,” Irsay told the Indianapolis Star. “I haven’t talked to Roger Goodell about DeflateGate since late January. Not true. That’s not the way things work involving someone else’s business and someone else’s team. It’s not something I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around ownership [in the NFL] for half a century.”

Despite the denials from Irsay and Bisciotti, Goodell finds himself in a difficult position. If he upholds Brady’s suspension, he’s putting a black mark on the legacy of one of the league’s best and most popular players, while risking a lawsuit from Brady. But if he sets the suspension aside, there’s little doubt that other teams — particularly other AFC playoff contenders like the Ravens and Colts — will be upset.

No matter how Goodell rules, he’s going to have people angry at him. Maybe that’s why it’s taking him so long to make up his mind.

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CFL teams are converting two-point attempts at a high rate

kick Getty Images

The upcoming NFL season has a wild-card in the form of a new rule pushing the one-point post-touchdown try to the 15 from the two. It’s unclear how it will unfold, but a preview is playing out north of the border, up Canada way.

The CFL has moved the one-point attempt to the 25, which makes the kick the same length as in the NFL, since the CFL goal post is at the front of the 25-yard end zone. The early results suggest that it could make more sense to go for two more often.

Via Yahoo! Sports Canada, CFL teams have gone for two 29 out of 101 times this season, converting 22 of them. That’s a 28.7-percent utilization rate of the two-point try, with a 72.4-percent success rate.

Conversely, teams have converted only 58 of 72 one-point attempts, an 80.6-percent rate.

That 25-yard end zone may have something to do with the two-point success rate, since it give receivers more room to maneuver. With only a 10-yard window, NFL teams may be better off running than throwing, especially after way the Super Bowl ended.

From the NFL’s perspective, the more relevant stat comes from the reduced conversion rate on a one-point try. Previously, the extra-point attempts in Canada came from the five yard line, and kickers made 99.4 percent of the 13-yard kicks. If the one-point try becomes a four-out-of-five proposition for the NFL, coaches could decide to go for two more often.

Still, football coaches like to do what is conventional, because when the conventional fails, there’s no criticism. When the unconventional fails, that’s when the pitchforks and torches come out.

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Texans place Jadeveon Clowney on PUP list

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Getty Images

The Texans’ team doctor said recently that linebacker Jadeveon Clowney’s recovery from microfracture surgery has been “spectacular” but that’s enough for him to avoid the physically unable to perform list to start training camp.

The Texans have placed Clowney on the PUP list, which means he won’t be practicing with the team until they’ve had more time to make sure his knee is ready for a full workload. It also keeps open the possibility that the Texans could put him on the regular season version of the list if he’s not able to practice this summer.

That option would keep Clowney from rejoining the team for at least the first six weeks of the year, which is obviously not what the Texans would like but it’s the most prudent approach for a player coming off that kind of procedure.

The Texans also placed linebacker Akeem Dent on the PUP list. Offensive lineman David Quessenberry is on the non-football injury list as he continues to recover from lymphoma and wide receiver Alan Bonner is on the non-football injury list. All four players can be activated at any point during training camp.

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NFL releases list of fines for 2015 season

Miami Dolphins OTA's Getty Images

NFL players who want to budget for fines during the 2015 season now know how much money they need to set aside.

The league has released the list of fines for offenses committed on the field this season.

The most expensive fines are for fighting and physical contact with officials. Those fines are $28,940 for a first offense and $57,881 for a second offense.

Some of the fines are a little hard to understand. For instance, the fine for taunting is the same as the fine for late hits and chop blocks: $8,681. At a time when the NFL says player safety is its top priority, you’d think that taking a cheap shot at an opponent would be treated more harshly than taunting an opponent, but in reality the fine is the same for both.

The full list of fines is here.

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Buccaneers bring back defensive end Da’Quan Bowers

San Francisco 49ers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

The Buccaneers haven’t needed Da’Quan Bowers all offseason.

But now that camp’s about to start, they realized some depth at defensive end might not be bad to have.

The Bucs announced they had re-signed the free agent, who had sat on the market untouched all offseason.

Bowers, who might have been a top-10 pick before a knee injury in college derailed his career, was ultimately picked in the second round by the Bucs.

He’s responded with 7.0 sacks in four seasons, but could still contribute, as he’s versatile enough to play inside as well. But the fact they brought him back also speaks to their depth chart at the position, where Jacquies Smith and George Johnson are the starters.

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DUI arrest of former Colts QB generates massive blood-alcohol reading

Trudeau Getty Images

The headline is the former Colts quarterback Jack Trudeau was arrested for DUI. The real story is the amount of alcohol that was in his system at the time.

Via the Associated Press, portable breath-testing showed Trudeau’s blood-alcohol concentration to be 0.31 percent.

That’s nearly four times the legal limit of 0.08 percent, and it’s at the low end of the “life threatening” range of alcohol poisoning.

The Sunday night arrest includes a charge of intimidating a police officer.

A second-round pick in 1986, Trudeau played for the Colts through 1993. He also spent time with the Jets and Panthers.

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