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NFL morning after: An amazing Sunday, except the refs

An Arizona Cardinals fan celebrates their 27-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles after their NFL football game in Phoenix Reuters

On Sunday afternoons during the NFL season, I’m sitting in my house with three TVs showing games in one room, plus another game showing on my iPad, with my laptop at the ready to check scores and stats. I have the Sunday Ticket package and I watch the Red Zone channel and the Game Mix channel, and I’m the fastest draw in the West when I need to change the channel. My wife brings me snacks so I don’t have to get up for even a minute. If anyone should be able to keep up with every single thing that happens on an NFL Sunday, it’s me.

And as this Sunday’s nine early games came to the late fourth quarter, even I couldn’t keep up with it all. What an amazing Sunday afternoon.

Don’t you wish we could see Sunday’s highlights as edited by Steve Sabol? Sabol, the NFL Films president who died of brain cancer on Tuesday, would have told an amazing story with the material the NFL gave him on Sunday. The nine early games featured three overtimes, three other games decided by a touchdown or less, a shocking upset by the Vikings, a tremendous defensive effort by the Bears and a Bills-Browns game that was, well . . . let’s just say there were eight really good games.

My choice for the best game of the day was that insane finish in Tennessee, where the Lions came back from 14 points down with 18 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime, only to end up losing 44-41. But the Chiefs-Saints battle was also lots of fun, and every time I looked at the Bengals’ 38-31 win over the Redskins I saw one of the league’s bright young stars (either Cincinnati’s A.J. Green or Washington’s Robert Griffin III) making a big play. There was no shortage of greatness on display on Sunday.

These are the days when you sit there on your couch and just say, This is why I love football. What a great day.

Here are my other thoughts from Week Three in the NFL:

The replacement officials need to pick up the pace. Games are simply taking far too long. Heading into this week the average length of games was about five minutes longer this season than last season, and maybe that doesn’t sound like much. But those delays while the officials are sorting things out are making some games really drag. The Steelers-Raiders game, in particular, felt like it was taking forever. If Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski had missed his game-winning field goal and the game had gone into overtime, it’s entirely possible that it still would have been going on into the start of Sunday Night Football.

The NFL needs to fine Bill Belichick heavily. I don’t care how bad the officials are — and they were bad during Sunday night’s Patriots-Ravens game — you simply cannot put your hands on an official. Belichick put his hands on an official. A fine of $100,000 might be enough to send the message that that simply cannot happen.

Still, the Belichick story shouldn’t overshadow the larger issue. The quality of the officiating in the NFL right now simply isn’t acceptable. The NFL has to fix it.

How did Matt Schaub get cleared so quickly? NFL teams are supposed to have an excess of caution about players suffering concussions, taking the time to have the medical staff check anyone who takes a hard hit to the head, and only clearing players to return to the field if everything is OK. So something seemed suspicious about Texans quarterback Matt Schaub missing only one play after taking a brutal and illegal helmet-to-helmet hit, a hit that had him crumpling to the ground and grabbing his head. I hope I’m wrong to be skeptical, but it sure didn’t seem like Schaub was out long enough to get the kind of thorough examination that a hit like that would warrant.

Jason Hanson should be a Hall of Famer some day. Hanson, the Lions’ 21-year veteran kicker, is the oldest player in the NFL at age 42, and has played 314 games with the Lions, the most games any player has played with one team in NFL history. But Hanson doesn’t just have longevity on his side, he has one of the most impressive kicking legs the game has ever seen. On Sunday against the Titans he went 4-for-4 on field goals, making kicks from 47, 53, 33 and 26 yards. That 53-yard field goal was the 51st field goal of his career from 50 yards or farther, the most any kicker has made in NFL history. Oh, and when Lions punter Ben Graham went down, Hanson stepped in and punted flawlessly, averaging 39.3 hards a punt and landing one of them inside the 20-yard line. Hanson probably won’t make it to the Hall of Fame because kickers are remembered for big field goals in big games, and the Lions haven’t been in many big games in Hanson’s career. But the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about individual greatness, and there’s been no greater kicker in NFL history than Jason Hanson.

Jamaal Charles is in very good company. Charles, the Chiefs’ starting running back, had 233 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards in Sunday’s win over the Saints, joining Jim Brown as the only players in NFL history with at least 225 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in the same game. Charles and Brown are also the only NFL players with more than 230 rushing yards in two different games. And if Charles keeps running at his career 6.0 yards-per-carry average and gets 196 more rushing attempts, he’ll break Brown’s record for the highest yards-per-carry average of any running back in NFL history with at least 750 carries. For half a century, Brown has been the gold standard for NFL running backs. It’s amazing that Charles is putting himself in Brown’s company.

Greg Schiano is right in the kneeldown controversy. Schiano, the Buccaneers coach who angered Giants coach Tom Coughlin last week by instructing his players to try to force a fumble while the Giants were kneeling down to run out the clock, did it again on Sunday against the Cowboys. Coughlin might not like it, but I do. Schiano coaches football the right way: Play hard until the game is over.

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Jaguars cut 18, including two 2015 draft picks

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The Jaguars are down to 57 players after saying farewell to 18 members of their roster, including four players drafted by General Manager Dave Caldwell in the seventh round in last three years.

Running back Storm Johnson was a seventh-round pick last year and ran for 86 yards on 29 carries as a rookie, but the arrival of T.J. Yeldon and Bernard Pierce this offseason likely pushed him off the roster. Cornerback Jeremy Harris, a 2013 seventh-rounder, was also axed.

Wide receiver Neal Sterling and tight end Ben Koyack have both been waived after arriving in the final round of the draft this year. Both could be candidates for the practice squad if they don’t catch on somewhere else in the roster shuffling that will go on this weekend.

The Jags also waived quarterback Stephen Morris, which leaves them with Blake Bortles and Chad Henne as the only quarterbacks currently on the roster.

Jacksonville rounded out this wave of cuts by parting ways with defensive tackle Richard Ash, defensive end Camaron Beard, defensive end Cap Capi, wide receiver Kasey Closs, guard Will Corbin, tight end Connor Hamlett, defensive end Ike Igbinosun, wide receiver Erik Lora, guard Chris Reed, cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, linebacker Todd Thomas, cornerback Peyton Thompson and wide receiver Tony Washington.

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Dolphins cut Josh Freeman

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After throwing a pair of interceptions in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Buccaneers, quarterback Josh Freeman vowed to “exhaust every option” available to him before giving up on his hopes of resuming his NFL career.

That didn’t sound like a man who was confident in his chances of making the Dolphins’ 53-man roster and it looks like he’ll have to find his next chance somewhere other than Miami. Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report reports that the Dolphins have released the former Buccaneers first-round pick.

It’s the second time that the Dolphins have released Freeman since initially signing him in April, but they came into the cut to 53 players with three quarterbacks already on the roster and it’s hard to imagine that they would let Freeman go free at this point if they had their hearts set on having him on the team in 2015.

Freeman, who last played in a regular season game with the Vikings in 2013, was 23-of-48 for 332 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions with the Dolphins in the preseason. Those aren’t numbers that would seem to make anyone else’s heart set on having him on their roster, but one can never predict how often the quarterback carousel will spin in a given season.

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League office must find a way to restore credibility

NFL-Shield-Logo1 Getty Images

The dictionary (do they even make dictionaries anymore?) defines credibility as “the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest.”

Based on that definition, and on the topic of discipline imposed for violations of the Personal Conduct Policy or for conduct detrimental to the game, the National Football League currently has no credibility.

Harsh? Possibly. True? Absolutely.

Moving forward, who will believe the league office or accept as true, real, or honest anything the NFL has to say regarding investigations conducted or discipline imposed under policies that give Commissioner Roger Goodell final say? I sure won’t. And no one else should, either, not without reading all documents with a skeptical eye, asking tough questions, doing independent research, and contemplating whether someone possibly is embellishing, exaggerating, or fabricating facts.

The NFL has earned the inherent lack of trust since 2012, from: (1) imposing cap penalties on Dallas and Washington for contracts executed in the uncapped year that were approved when filed to (2) trumping up “bounty” charges against the Saints based on players getting a modest amount of cash for the application of clean, legal hits that they already had an incentive to apply to (3) ignoring the fact that other teams had been using “bounties” for years (including teams coached by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the mastermind of the bounty scandal) to (4) hiring an outside lawyer to provide the patina of legitimacy to an investigation which found in part that Anthony Hargrove shouted “Bobby, give me my money!” when closer inspection of the audio and video is conclusive at best to (5) a second suspension of Ray Rice that clearly violated his rights under the CBA to (6) the manipulation of league policies to keep Adrian Peterson off the field for the 2014 stretch run against the Vikings because someone apparently had decided in September that Peterson wouldn’t be playing again this year to (7) the sudden abandonment of a 95-year history of not paying any attention to the air pressure in footballs in the apparent hopes of catching the Patriots cheating to (8) the complete lack of any understanding that the air pressure in footballs decreases on cold days to (9) the leak of grossly false air-pressure information to a pair of prominent journalists in order to create a national presumption of cheating to (10) the failure to correct that blatantly false information to (11) the hiring of a lawyer for an “independent” investigation that clearly wasn’t independent to (12) the review of the “independent” investigator’s report by the league’s general counsel to (13) the refusal to make the league’s general counsel answer questions about his role to (14) suspending Tom Brady for “general awareness” of an equipment violation, in violation of the CBA and the “law of the shop” to (15) expressing righteous indignation over Brady “destroying” his phone in the hopes of swaying public opinion against him to (16) attempting to suspend Brady for obstructing an investigation even though no player had ever been suspended for obstructing an investigation, the findings and conclusions of the league office as currently constructed on matters of discipline cannot be accepted at face value.

So how can that change? Taking final say from the Commissioner in all matters of player discipline would be a good start. But even for teams, coaches, and other non-players who aren’t protected by a union, the Commissioner should no longer have final say. Earlier this year, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the Commissioner can never be objective when handling an arbitration involving a former employee of one of the NFL’s 32 teams and one of the 32 teams that employs the Commissioner.

The Missouri Supreme Court is right. And the fans, media, and players finally have figured it out. No matter how or why it got to this point, the best interests of the NFL aren’t served by the Commissioner having final say, because the NFL has abused final say enough times in recent years to make any exercise of final say subject to skepticism, criticism, and derision.

The NFL likes to say that final say is exercised to protect the integrity of and public confidence in the sport of professional football. Over the last three years, however, has any one thing done more damage to the integrity of and public confidence in the sport of professional football than the way the league office has exercised this power?

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Falcons clearing the decks at QB, cutting Rex Grossman and T.J. Yates

T.J. Yates AP

On a day when Tim Tebow appears to have sewn up a job in Philadelphia, all the news about iconic quarterbacks is not so happy.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the Falcons have released veteran quarterback Rex Grossman.

The Falcons signed him just over a week ago, so he clearly didn’t have a chance to establish himself there. That leaves just Sean Renfree behind starter Matt Ryan, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that they’re also cutting T.J. Yates.

Grossman hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2011 in Washington. He did appear in last night’s preseason finale, going 4-of-9 passing for 41 yards.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

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Browns will name acting GM by Saturday

Ray Farmer, Jimmy Haslam AP

Like 31 other teams, the Browns are busy trimming their roster and exploring options to bolster it through the weekend as teams explore trades and rosters are trimmed to 53.

The work won’t end across the league after the initial round of waiver claims and practice squad additions this weekend, but it will end for Browns general manager Ray Farmer for 30 days, starting at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 7.

That’s when Farmer begins serving a 30-day suspension for breaking the NFL’s rules on gameday communication last year. It’s hard to call what Farmer did a “scandal” — and it’s even worse to call it TextGate — but Farmer admitted to sending texts to the sideline during games last season. He later cooperated with the NFL by turning over his phone during the investigation, unlike some other guy who’s been in the news lately.

Friday, Browns coach Mike Pettine told reporters on a conference call that the team would release a statement on Saturday announcing who will serve as acting general manager during Farmer’s absence. The acting GM will likely be either Bill Kuharich, who came to the team when Farmer was hired and carries the title of executive chief of staff, or Morocco Brown, the team’s vice president of player personnel.

We’re talking about the Browns, though, so anybody from the team president to a guy on the sidewalk or even Sonny Weaver could end up with the job while Farmer serves his suspension.

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Eagles ship Matt Barkley to Arizona for conditional draft pick

Indianapolis Colts v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley lost the third-string quarterback job to Tim Tebow on Thursday night, and now Barkley is heading to Arizona.

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that the Cardinals are sending a conditional draft pick to Philadelphia to acquire Barkley. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Eagles get a seventh-round pick from the Cardinals if Barkley is on the Cardinals roster for six games.

A fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2013, Barkley has played sparingly in Philadelphia. With Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez firmly ahead of Barkley on the quarterback depth chart and Tebow out-playing Barkley in the preseason as well, it appeared that Barkley was on the verge of getting cut.

But the Cardinals, whose season fell apart last year after injuries to starting quarterback Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton, have decided that it’s worth giving a late-round pick up to acquire a third-string quarterback with some potential. And the Eagles get something out of a player who was going to give them nothing.

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Titans cut nine more, including linebacker Andy Studebaker

AFC Championship - Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Titans continued to whittle away at the roster Friday, making nine more moves to get their roster to 65.

The biggest name among this round of cuts was probably veteran linebacker Andy Studebaker, who was just signed two weeks ago. He has now been cut by 75 percent of the AFC South after previous stints with the Jaguars and Colts. He’s also been with the Chiefs and Eagles.

The Titans also released fullback Zach Boren, cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson, center Gabe Ikard, defensive back Khalid Wooten, defensive back Jemea Thomas, defensive lineman Isaako Aaitui, wide receiver Josh Stewart and linebacker Kaelin Burnett.

The Titans took care of another spot by trading guard Andy Levitre to the Falcons, meaning they have to make 12 more moves tomorrow.

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49ers release Philip Wheeler, Joe Looney and Craig Dahl

San Francisco 49ers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Darnell Dockett isn’t the only veteran that failed to make the cut to 53 players with the 49ers.

The team announced Dockett’s release on Friday afternoon along with five other moves that leave the roster at 69 players. They’ll need to pare that number to 53 by Saturday afternoon.

Guard Joe Looney was released, which leaves the team without any players from their 2012 draft class. He was a fourth-round pick of the 49ers and started four of the 19 games he played for the team over the last three years.

Safety Craig Dahl and linebacker Philip Wheeler are gone as well.  Dahl restructured his contract for the second straight year and played in every game for the team over the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough for him to hold onto a roster spot. Wheeler signed with the 49ers after being released by the Dolphins in March after playing just two years of a five-year, $26 million deal.

The 49ers also released wide receiver Isaac Blakeney and offensive lineman Patrick Miller.

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Report: Owners to discuss changing Goodell’s role in disciplinary process

Roger Goodell AP

After the latest legal embarrassment for the NFL, the NFL may finally be considering a real strategy for avoiding future embarrassments.

According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, owners plan to discuss Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role in the disciplinary process.

There will certainly be discussion about that,” an owner told Maske, on the condition of anonymity. The owner added that he’s “not sure where it will lead.”

The news comes at a time when multiple owners have indicated a belief that the time has come to change the disciplinary process, with Patriots president Jonathan Kraft first broaching the subject, 49ers CEO Jed York suggesting agreement via social media, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank chiming in Thursday night.

The impediment becomes the collective bargaining process. With the NFL insisting on retaining Goodell’s power regarding suspensions under the Personal Conduct Policy and suspensions for conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game during the last Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, the league necessarily gave something up to secure that right. The league will now be inclined to ask the NFL Players Association for something in return for exporting the disciplinary function to a neutral arbitrator, even if the NFL benefits from dumping that authority.

For the league, the chorus of voices and the emergence of reports will make it hard to maintain a poker face. And so the NFL may have to simply just give up its power without getting a concession from the NFLPA.

Given the league’s recent streak of stubbornness, that seems unlikely. The best move would be for the NFLPA to dangle one or two (or more) rights that currently belong to the players that maybe the union doesn’t really want in order to provide the league with a way to save a little face.

Regardless of how it happens, it can happen at any time; the two sides don’t have to wait for the current labor deal to expire. That’s one of the many strong points NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler made during a Friday appearance on PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio.

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Johnny Manziel is throwing things, footballs will be among them soon

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Texas Rangers Getty Images

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is progressing well enough in his rehab to start throwing footballs soon.

He’s not quite there yet, as he’s apparently in a different aisle of the sporting goods store.

“He gets looked at every day. He’s on schedule,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “He started throwing. I didn’t say he threw a football.”

So perhaps something light, like a ping pong ball. Or maybe a shuttlecock. But Pettine later said that Manziel would start throwing a football as part of his recovery from elbow soreness soon, if not by the end of today.

Manziel has insisted the problem is just tendinitis, and nothing to be alarmed about. But in just over a week, the Browns are going to need someone to back up Josh McCown when they play the Jets, which could make for some job security for Thad Lewis going into cuts.

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LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams practice with Bills

Rex Ryan AP

Bills running back LeSean McCoy is confident that his injured hamstring will be well enough for him to play in the team’s season opener and he took a step toward realizing that goal on Friday.

McCoy took part in individual drills during Friday’s practice, which is a good sign for his of being well enough to play against the Colts in Week One. Assuming his hamstring responds well to the return to the field, McCoy should move on to team drills at some point next week.

Coach Rex Ryan said that he’s cautiously optimistic about McCoy being ready to go for the opener.

“I’m hoping that he’ll be available to us,” Ryan said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.

The Bills also got running back Karlos Williams back at practice Friday. Like McCoy, Williams, who is recovering after being hospitalized last month with an undisclosed illness, only did individual drills. If McCoy cant go, Williams would join Bryce Brown and Boobie Dixon as options in the backfield a week from Sunday.

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Differing reports about Montee Ball trade talks between Broncos and Cowboys

Montee Ball, Ed Stinson AP

Montee Ball has slid down the Broncos depth chart this offseason and ran as the team’s fourth tailback in their third preseason game, giving some reason to wonder whether the 2013 second-round pick will remain with the team for a third season.

The Broncos would surely prefer to get something in return for Ball rather than just cut him loose to become a free agent and there are reports in Denver that there are discussions afoot to do just that. Vic Lombardi of 104.3 The Fan and Benjamin Allbright of Mile High Sports 1430 AM are both reporting that the Broncos and Cowboys have discussed a trade that would send Ball to Dallas.

No one should be getting a star ready for Ball’s helmet, however. Those reports have been followed by ones from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media and Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram saying that no talks are going on between the two teams regarding Ball.

The Cowboys have maintained confidence in their running backs throughout the offseason and would start the season with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar as a committee in the backfield if they don’t acquire another player at the position. Ball ran 16 times for 27 yards on Thursday night in his most extensive playing time of the preseason.

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Texans says Tom Savage will miss significant time with shoulder injury

Tom Savage, Shane Ray AP

The Texans are going to need another quarterback, and an alarm clock.

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Texans coach Bill O’Brien said quarterback Tom Savage would miss significant time because of the shoulder injury suffered in last night’s preseason finale.

O’Brien said Savage would not need surgery, but would get more tests to determine the severity of the injury.

That leaves the Texans with just starter Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, and O’Brien acknowledged they’d look at the possibility of bringing in another quarterback or at least keep one on the practice squad.

Any tests Savage has in the next day will also determine his own future, and whether they want to carry him on their 53-man roster, or place him on injured reserve.

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Washington dumps “envelope fee” policy for will call

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At a time, NFL desperately wants fans to choose to buy tickets to football games, the franchise in Washington nearly made fans less likely to buy tickets to football games. For a change, the latest example has nothing to do with the quality of the on-field product.

Via ESPN.com, the franchise imposed a $50 “envelope fee” for tickets left at will call. And the team already has dumped the policy.

“It was a policy that was implemented to combat scalping at the stadium,” team spokesman Tony Wyllie said. “Our ticket office has historically exercised discretion in enforcing the policy. It is an outdated policy, and we no longer require payment. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Strangely, the article from ESPN.com doesn’t make it clear that the team already has abandoned the policy. Upon reading the headline and initially reviewing the article, it seems as if the team hasn’t gotten rid of the policy, even though it has.

Even more strangely, the article lists the franchise’s various recent embarrassments, without mentioning the biggest one: An admission by the wife of the General Manager that she posted on Twitter a suggestion that an ESPN reporter obtains information by trading sexual favors, which came after the G.M.’s wife initially denied it.

Then again, maybe none of this is strange. Maybe this is an example of how ESPN will subtly retaliate against the team for the attack on one of its own.

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Bills place McKelvin on NFI, release 17 players

Leodis McKelvin AP

The Bills announced a bunch of roster moves Friday afternoon, most notably placing veteran cornerback Leodis McKelvin on the reserve/non-football injury list.

That designation means McKelvin is out for at least the first six weeks of the season. He broke his ankle last November and early in training camp suffered a setback in his rehab and had a follow-up procedure done on the ankle.

Earlier this week Bills coach Rex Ryan said McKelvin was making “encouraging” progress but that there was still no timetable for his return.

A longtime starter, McKelvin had four interceptions last season before the injury. In part because of the injury and in part because McKelvin turned 30 on Friday, the Bills used a second-round pick on cornerback Ronald Darby last spring.

The Bills also cut Quentin Groves, Dezmin Lewis, Will Campbell, John Conner, Andre Davis, IK Enemkpali, Andre Fluellen, Bronson Hill, Darryl Johnson, Alex Kupper, BJ Larsen, Merrill Noel, Tobias Palmer, Cyril Richardson, Matt Simms and Cierre Wood.

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