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Putin offers to buy Kraft a new ring

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses participants of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg Reuters

At an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked about the Super Bowl ring that Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that Putin took from him, before saying he was joking, and that the Kremlin says Kraft gave him as a gift in 2005.

Putin says he does not remember meeting Kraft and remembers nothing about a ring, but he made an offer to try to assuage any hurt feelings all the same. Putin proposed having another ring made for Kraft on Putin’s dime if that will make Kraft feel better.

“If it is such a big treasure for Mr. Kraft and the team … I have a suggestion,” Putin said, via Tom Curran of CSN New England. “I will ask a jewelry firm to make a really good and big thing, so everyone will see it is a luxury piece, made of quality metal and with a stone, so this piece will be passed from generation to generation in the team whose interests are represented by Mr. Kraft. This would be the smartest solution partners can ever achieve while tackling such a complicated international problem.”

We’re all for avoiding international incidents, even if we’re fairly sure that Putin delivered that last line with more than a little sarcasm in his voice. The Russian leader also has to like that he’d hold onto the upper hand even after getting Kraft a new ring by going the complete lack of recollection route about something that obviously has stuck with the Patriots owner through the years.

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Artie Burns: I have to be ready for Tom Brady to come after me

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 25:  Artie Burns #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers signs autographs for fans before the start of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on December 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers defense rounded into form down the stretch this season and ranks among the best defenses in the league over the course of the nine-game winning streak that the team carries into Sunday’s AFC title game against the Patriots.

Two of the players who have seen their playing time go up at the same time the defense’s play has improved are safety Sean Davis and cornerback Artie Burns. The two rookies have played almost every snap over the course of the winning streak and they have helped settle a secondary that was leaky in the first half of the season.

That was when the Patriots beat the Steelers 27-16. The rookies only played 38 snaps between them in that game, leaving Burns feeling like Tom Brady is going to be testing them often on Sunday.

“That’s what he does,” Burns said, via ESPN.com. “He’s a savvy vet. That’s what savvy vets do; they go after rookies. I’m prepared for it. It’s a challenge. I’ve just got to be ready.”

Passing the test won’t guarantee the desired outcome for Pittsburgh — the Patriots ran for 140 yards in the regular season win — but it would likely make for a tighter game than the last one.

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Pursuit of Vic Fangio says plenty about 49ers search

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during pre-game warm ups before their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park on December 30, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers may not like their neighbors to the not-too-distant north, but they currently seem to be trying to take a page from the playbook of long-time Raiders owner Al Davis. How else can anyone explain the decision to pursue a defensive coordinator before hiring a head coach?

Well, here’s how it can be explained. It can be explained by acknowledging what’s already well known in league circles: Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is getting the job, and the 49ers are in the process of lining up possible candidates to join Shanahan’s staff. The Falcons can hardly complain; they did the same thing two years ago, wink-nod hiring Seahawks offensive coordinator Dan Quinn while the Seahawks still were playing.

The other unusual aspect of this specific situation is that neither Kyle Shanahan nor his father have any experience working with Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who previously worked for the 49ers in that same capacity. Some are interpreting the move to interview Fangio as a dynamic driven by someone other than Shanahan. Which possibly underscores the influence of Paraag Marathe, a factor that possibly has been causing some G.M. candidates to bow out.

Regardless, it’s odd to see a team trying to interview coordinators before having a coach. The truth most likely is that the 49ers have a coach.

Meanwhile, the report of San Francisco’s interest in Fangio and Chicago’s refusal to grant permission for him to interview for the job would seem to conclusively put to rest the idea that Fangio was in trouble. The Bears had an opportunity to get out from under Fangio’s contract, and the Bears declined.

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Zach Orr says he’s “forced to walk away” because of neck condition

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Linebacker Zach Orr #54 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates in the first half of the Buffalo Bills vs. the Baltimore Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Ravens linebacker Zach Orr is retiring not because he wants to, but because doctors are telling him he has to.

Orr says an examination on a herniated disc revealed that he has a rare neck condition that could result in a serious, life-changing injury if he continued to play. As a result, he’s walking away from football at age 24.

“I’m blessed and thankful that I’m able to walk away from the game in good health,” Orr said.

After initially making the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2014 by playing special teams, Orr emerged as a very good starting linebacker in Baltimore during the 2016 season. There was talk that he could be due for a big contract this offseason, but now he’s done playing football entirely.

Still, Orr seemed to be in good spirits, saying that he’s going to stay active in his community and in mentoring young men. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and G.M. Ozzie Newsome both called Orr a fine young man who has a bright future ahead of him. Just not on the field.

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NFL confirms games at Wembley Stadium in Weeks 3-4 of 2017

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars throws the ball over Eric Weddle #32 of the Baltimore Ravens during an NFL game on September 25, 2016 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. The Ravens defeated the Jaguars 19-17. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL has confirmed the two games that will be played at Wembley Stadium in London in Week Three and Week Four of the 2017 season.

The Jaguars will “host” the Ravens in Week Three on Sunday, September 24, and the Dolphins will “host” the Saints a week later on October 1.

Jacksonville has agreed to give up a home game each year to play in London. The Dolphins agreed to give up one home game as part of the deal that awarded Miami the Super Bowl in 2020.

The NFL has also confirmed that the Browns will play a “home” game against the Vikings at London’s Twickenham Stadium, and the Rams will play a “home” game against the Cardinals there. Those games are expected to take place in Weeks 7-8, although specifics have not been announced.

The Rams are giving up one home game in each year that they’re playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Browns gave up a home game just because they’re a rebuilding team that doesn’t have a huge ticket demand.

The Raiders are also expected to play a “home” game against the Patriots in Mexico City in 2017.

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Jordy Nelson dealing with illness, still could play Sunday

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 8:  Trevin Wade #31 of the New York Giants tackles Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter during the NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field on January 8, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Getty Images

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson is dealing with an illness in addition to broken ribs as the Packers finalize preparations for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Nelson missed last week’s win in Dallas due to injury. Packers Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that the illness kept Nelson away from the team facility Friday because the Packers worried it might be contagious.

If Nelson gets healthy, McCarthy made it sound like he could be in uniform Sunday. McCarthy said Nelson practiced more on Thursday than the team anticipated he would and is “making progress.”

Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison are all battling injuries, but McCarthy said all three wide receivers “will be given every chance” to play Sunday.

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NFL denies that it gave Lady Gaga a mandate not to mention Donald Trump

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 30:  Lady Gaga performs during the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on November 30, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret) Getty Images

The story is a couple of days old, but it’s inauguration day, so anything regarding the incoming or outgoing president takes on extra relevance.

ETonline.com reports that Lady Gaga, who’ll headline the halftime show at Super Bowl LI, has been asked not to mention politics or Donald Trump during the event.

“Lady Gaga was told by the NFL that she cannot say anything or bring anything up about the election, or mention Donald Trump,” ETonline.com said.

The league denies it.

“The Super Bowl is a time when people really come together,” the league told ETonline.com in a statement. “Lady Gaga is focused on putting together an amazing show for fans and we love working with her on it; we aren’t going to be distracted by this.” The league also called the matter “nonsense from people trying to stir up controversy where there is none.”

There is no controversy yet, but it would hardly be the first time the Super Bowl halftime creates controversy. From Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction to M.I.A.’s middle finger, the league has had unfortunate events during the gigantic stage that the biggest event in American sports provides.

Regardless of anything the NFL has or hasn’t said to Lady Gaga about what she can or can’t say or do, her rights and responsibilities undoubtedly have been outlined in detail in the contractual documents that were signed weeks ago. And if the league didn’t have the foresight to ensure that Lady Gaga won’t create some sort of spectacle via an attempt to interject politics into a musical event, the league has only itself to blame if/when she does.

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Report: Ravens’ Zach Orr to retire at age 24

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 18: Inside linebacker Zach Orr #54 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after making an interception in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

After becoming a starter and having his best season in 2016, Ravens linebacker Zach Orr is planning to retire, at age 24.

Orr decided to retire despite the Ravens attempting to talk him out of it, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports. According to Mike Garafolo, Orr played through a cracked bone in his shoulder late last season. He did not miss a game until Week 17, after the Ravens had been eliminated from playoff contention. The Ravens said he missed the finale because of a neck injury.

Just yesterday a report surfaced that Orr and the Ravens were making progress on talks for a new contract, but that is apparently not the case.

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas in 2014, Orr was at first primarily a special teams player but had a strong season last year on defense and appeared to have a bright future in the NFL. Now he appears ready to walk away.

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As youngest head coach, Sean McVay plans to earn players’ respect

THOUSAND OAKS, CA - JANUARY 13:  The Los Angeles Rams announce today in a press conference the hiring of new head coach Sean McVay on January 13, 2017 in Thousand Oaks, California. McVay is the youngest head coach in NFL history.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) Getty Images

New Rams coach Sean McVay is only 30 years old, an age his players may associate more with a teammate than with a head coach. But McVay isn’t worried about whether players will listen to a coach who’s not much older (or maybe even a little younger) than they are.

McVay said today on PFT Live that he thinks his hard work will earn the respect of players.

“I think that respect will be earned over time,” McVay said. “It’s not something that comes in one day, I think it’s something that will be earned over time.”

McVay said that he and his coaching staff will make the players better, and that’s what players respond to.

“I think the biggest thing is letting these players see by our preparation, our process, day in and day out, how serious we are about our football and how that can lead to us winning games,” McVay said. “It’s about helping these players reach their highest potential, that plan, that process, the way we coach, lead, teach and motivate on a day-in, day-out basis, I think our players will feel.”

That’s ultimately what a coach is judged on: If McVay wins, people will quickly forget that he’s the youngest coach in the NFL.

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Sean Smith, Austin Howard recovering from shoulder surgery

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Sean Smith #21 of the Oakland Raiders walks to the locker room before the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Cornerback Sean Smith’s first season with the Raiders got off to a shaky start when he was benched in the first game of the season, but he was able to rebound from that low to turn in a solid season in the Oakland secondary.

Smith did that work despite a shoulder injury that forced him to miss one game and led him to an operating room recently. At a Thursday press conference, Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie said that Smith had shoulder surgery and said, via Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group, that the team expects Smith to be “just fine” for next season.

Smith isn’t the only Raider on the mend after shoulder surgery. Right tackle Austin Howard went for a repair of a torn labrum that he said he initially suffered in training camp.

Howard was able to start 10 regular season games and their playoff loss to the Texans after the injury.

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Broncos planning to give Paxton Lynch a chance to be starter

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Quarterback Paxton Lynch #12 of the Denver Broncos warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Getty Images

With a new head coach and a new offensive staff in place in Denver, the Broncos have an opportunity to go in a new direction.

That direction is apparently not a trade for a veteran such as Tony Romo.

According to Mike Klis of KUSA, the Broncos are prepared to give 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch a chance to win the starting job this offseason, and want to push him toward that goal.

That means OTAs and minicamps will be more significant than normal, if they’re trying to determine if he’s ready to handle it.

If not, there’s some level of trust in Trevor Siemian, and his experience could still be a factor.

But if the Broncos are making it known they want Lynch to have a chance to make the job his own, it could signal that they’re not about to invest heavily in a contract such as Romo’s.

 

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Report: Chiefs G.M. is “best bet” to be next Packers G.M.

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 29:  Former Green Bay Packers General Manager and current Kansas City Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey greets former staff members prior to the preseason game at Arrowhead Stadium on August 29, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Packers are going to keep at least one of their top personnel lieutenants, but the future of their General Manager job could be decided from outside the organization.

With Eliot Wolf pulling out of the derby to become the 49ers General Manager and Brian Gutekunst reportedly the favorite for the job, one of the potential heirs to Packers G.M. Ted Thompson’s job will remain.

But according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the “best bet” for Thompson’s replacement could be Chiefs G.M. John Dorsey.

There are a number of factors at play here. Thompson’s contract runs through the 2018 NFL draft, though there has been some speculation he could walk away if the Packers win the Super Bowl.

Dorsey, who came up through the ranks with the Packers, also has a contract through the 2018 draft. And the work he’s done with the Chiefs has certainly been good enough to merit an extension, if he wanted it. But if Thompson were to leave after this season, the Chiefs could prevent Dorsey from returning to Green Bay, where he played five seasons and worked in personnel from 1991 to 2012, with one year in Seattle stuck in between.

But the Packers have a deep bench in the personnel department, which makes the future there so intriguing.

The 34-year-old Wolf has been considered a possible if not eventual replacement for Thompson, and he got a raise and is expected to get a new title this offseason. That’ll be three promotions in five years for the son of Hall of Fame G.M. Ron Wolf, seemingly putting him on the fast track.

But if team president Mark Murphy wants someone with more experience, the 56-year-old Dorsey could be more appealing to them.

There are a lot of plates spinning here, but it’s clear that Dorsey’s ties to Green Bay are still deep. And like his dad, who went from the Raiders to the Buccaneers before getting the Packers job, Eliot Wolf may one day have to leave home to have a chance to run a team. They blocked him from interviewing with the division-rival Lions last year, but their willingness to let him talk to the 49ers could also be a sign of their future intentions.

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Friday morning one-liners

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 01: Quarterback Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks to pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter of a game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defatted the Cowboys 27-13. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) Getty Images

Mel Kiper’s first mock draft has the Bills taking Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.

A list of players the Dolphins could check out during the East-West Shrine Game.

DT Alan Branch will be part of the Patriots’ plan to slow Le’Veon Bell.

Jets owner Woody Johnson is headed to England.

Running through some of the offseason decisions the Ravens face regarding current members of the roster.

Five reasons to think the Bengals can make a quick return to the playoffs.

Can Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams build a unit as tough as his words?

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley would like to see the Steelers putting more points on the board.

Ranking the Texans’ roster from 1-50.

Is it good news that Colts QB Andrew Luck was playing hurt?

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone does some work on international relations.

Breaking down the Titans defensive line.

A special teams coach is the latest addition to Vance Joseph’s first Broncos staff.

The Chiefs will need a new assistant special teams coach.

Ten moves by Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie that reshaped the Raiders.

San Diego doesn’t know yet what will happen to Qualcomm Stadium with the Chargers bolting town.

The Cowboys will likely be in the market for a pass rusher.

Musing about Adrian Peterson mentioning the Giants as a landing spot.

QB Carson Wentz’s mobility is something the Eagles like about him.

A look at the Redskins’ cornerback depth.

Roy Anderson is the new assistant secondary coach for the Bears.

Lions fans will have upgraded Wi-Fi at games in 2017.

Packers RB Ty Montgomery admires how calm QB Aaron Rodgers remains when he’s under pressure.

Grading the Vikings cornerback play in 2016.

WR Julio Jones feels the Falcons are the most complete team for the first time in his tenure.

The Panthers could use some help at defensive end.

Mark Ingram’s big year was part of the picture at running back for the Saints.

A ranking of the top young players with the Buccaneers.

Will the Cardinals hold onto DE Calais Campbell?

Moving to L.A. landed the Rams a role on a prime time sitcom.

The 49ers’ wait for Kyle Shanahan may be coming to an end.

A discussion of backup quarterback possibilities for the Seahawks.

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Reggie McKenzie “not the type” to wait on deals for Derek Carr, Khalil Mack

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 24:  Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders drops back against the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter on December 24, 2016 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Raiders won 33-25.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Drafting defensive end Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr in 2014 was a major part of the turnaround for the Raiders that pushed them to 12 wins and a playoff spot this year.

Now the Raiders have to work on keeping those two players in Raiders uniforms for years to come. Carr has one year left on his rookie deal and the team has an option on Mack through the 2018 season, which makes it little surprise to hear General Manager Reggie McKenzie say that signing them is a priority as the team moves into offseason mode.

“The good thing is we do have time, but I’m not the type to wait until the last minute,” McKenzie said, via the San Jose Mercury News. “Those two guys are not only great players, but they’re great men and they are true Raiders and I want to make sure we do the best that we can to make sure they stay Raiders.”

Salary cap management will be a big deal as Carr, Mack and other young players move into their second contracts, something that McKenzie said he doesn’t feel threatened by at this point while noting that the team will “continue to strive to get good players for a lesser amount.” After years of struggling to find players worth building around, that’s not the worst problem to have.

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Donald Trump got a phone call from Tom Brady

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chats with Donald Trump (Photo by Donna Connor/WireImage) Getty Images

Despite a “Make America Great Again” hat being spotted in his locker early in the campaign, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has tried to keep under wraps his support of Donald Trump in the closet.

The Later-Today-To-Be-President outed Brady last night.

“Your friend Tom [Brady] just called,” Donald Trump said at a Thursday night black-tie dinner, in comments directed to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. “He feels good. He called to congratulate us. He feels good.”

How Brady and/or Mrs. Brady feel about that comment remains to be seen.

I’m not talking politics anymore, guys,” Brady said in November, via Phill Perry of CSNNE.com. “I’m just not. I got other things to worry about. Just speaking with my family, it’s just a bad idea. I know, you guys, I told you I would, then after I told you I would, I changed my mind.”

In September 2015, Brady made it clear that he’s not interested in or knowledgeable about politics.

“I don’t even know what the issues are. I haven’t paid attention to politics in a long time,” Brady said. “It’s actually not something that I really even enjoy. It’s way off my radar. . . .

“I try to have fun with certain things, you know, but some things a lot of times get taken out of context. I think you are just more careful with what you say because you don’t want certainly a big headline with you as saying something that’s going to take the attention away from your teammates or what you’re trying to do.”

On one hand, there’s nothing wrong with calling the incoming president to congratulate him the incredibly rare honor, privilege, and power he’s about to receive. Whenever a personal friend is about to become the President of the United States, it’s probably a good idea to at least give him a phone call.

On the other hand, the potential for friction and distraction when it comes to such a polarizing figure (and, hopefully, Americans who otherwise can agree on little can at least agree that he’s polarizing) makes it smart to keep that support under wraps. Which Brady had successfully done in recent months. Until last night.

It surely won’t matter come Sunday night. But it also surely gave Brady at least a mild cringe to hear that Trump had shared with the public a phone call that Brady undoubtedly intended to be private.

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Aaron Rodgers: “Size matters” when it comes to his hands

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates after winning an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. The Packers won 34-31. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins) AP

When NFL evaluators descend on Indianapolis late next month for the Scouting Combine, people will laugh about their obsession with the measurements of the quarterbacks. But for all the jokes, there was a practical application of those numbers on display last week.

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was being sacked from behind by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, he didn’t lose the ball he had in his right hand. Why not?

Size matters,” Rodgers said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

When he was at the Scouting Combine, his hands measured 10 1/8 inches. Assuming they haven’t grown since then (or that he hasn’t had them stretched), that makes them officially large.

“His grip strength has got to be fantastic,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I totally thought the same thing. During the game, I said, ‘That’s amazing that the ball did not come out.’”

Anything under 9 1/2 inches is considered small, and can make it harder for a quarterback to grip the ball well enough to spin it in inclement weather. Or in Rodgers case, to secure it without fumbling while being drilled from behind with 18 seconds left in a tied playoff game.

“That was a huge play because if the ball comes out right there, that’s probably the game for them because they’re already in field goal range,” Packers pass-rusher Julius Peppers said. “I think when he absorbed that hit and held onto the ball, that was just a great, instinctive play that probably saved the game for us.”

Instincts and big hands, neither of which you can teach.

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