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Deflategate and franchise relocation dominate Goodell press conference

goodell AP

If you had told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a few months ago that when he gave his Annual “State of the League” press conference before the Super Bowl he wouldn’t have been peppered with questions about Ray Rice and domestic violence, he surely would have been shocked — and surely would have breathed a sigh of relief.

But at Goodell’s press conference today, domestic violence was not the primary focus — or even a focus of the questions at all, as questions regarding Deflategate and franchise relocation dominated the discussion.

We’ll have plenty to say here at PFT about Goodell’s answers to various questions, but right now let’s take a look at the questions themselves. Here are the 26 questions Goodell took, grouped into their topics:

Deflategate

Bob Kravitz, WTHR in Indianapolis: Robert Kraft said you owe his team an apology if nothing comes of Deflategate. What are your thoughts?

Howard Eskin, Fox 29 TV: Will you hold Bill Belichick to the same standards in Deflategate as you held Sean Payton to in Bountygate? And why aren’t you available to the media every week, as Richard Sherman suggested?

Mike Reiss, ESPN: Has the NFL ever tested the air pressure of footballs in the middle of a game, and how important is that as a frame of reference in this investigation?

Heather Yako, NBC News 11 in Arizona: Why was Arizona chosen to host the Super Bowl and has Deflategate detracted from the game?

Bart Hubbuch, New York Post: Richard Sherman suggested that you may show favoritism to some owners, including Robert Kraft. How do you react to that?

Jason Cole, Bleacher Report: How is throwing a deflated ball drastically different from throwing a spitball in baseball?

Mark Maske, Washington Post: Will the standards you laid out after Spygate for teams complying with rules continue to apply in Deflategate?

Franchise relocation and ownership issues

Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: What is the league’s level of commitment to keeping a team in St. Louis and have the Rams’ owners followed the league’s relocation guidelines?

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: 2015 marks the 20th year without a franchise in the nation’s largest market. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has the resources to move a team to Los Angeles. What criteria will the league use to determine whether a team moves to Los Angeles and what if an owner goes rogue and moves without the NFL’s blessing?

Amber Dixon, NBC Las Vegas: Las Vegas has long expressed interest in having a pro sports team. Could Las Vegas sustain a professional team?

Vic Carucci, Buffalo News: In light of the new ownership in Buffalo, what’s your perspective on the need for a new stadium?

Kevin Acee, San Diego Union-Tribune: Can you speak to the fans in San Diego about whether they need a new stadium and has Dean Spanos done enough to demonstrate that he’s tried to work things out locally?

Jeff Duncan, New Orleans Times-Picayune: A lawsuit has been filed in New Orleans questioning Saints owner Tom Benson’s ability to run the team. In your opinion, is Benson mentally and physically capable of running the team?

International expansion

John Sutcliffe, ESPN: It’s been since 2005 since the league has had a regular-season game in Mexico City and the fans don’t understand why. Can you explain why?

Neil Reynolds, Sky Sports: Why have earlier kickoff times been used for London games?

Ian Walker, London Evening Standard: What more does London need to do to grow the game and have a franchise there?

Goodell’s job performance

Barry Wilner, Associated Press: What do you plan to do, specifically, to restore face in the league and in the quote-unquote, Shield?

Darren McKee KKFN, Denver: A lot of people who had a job like yours would probably resign. Can you imagine any circumstances that would lead you to resign?

Rachel Nichols, CNN: A lot of issues have had a conflict of interest. When you hire an outside investigator like Ted Wells, you’re still paying him and Robert Kraft is still paying you. What steps can you take to mitigate some of those conflict of interest issues?

Ron Mott, NBC News: How would you describe your relationship with the players and how will you improve that relationship going forward?

Ken Belson, New York Times: Do you believe you deserve a pay cut for your performance?

Dan Kaplan, Sports Business Journal: Do you think you’ll reach your goal of growing to the point where the NFL will have $25 billion in revenue?

NFL’s youth football and Play 60 initiatives

Jason Winik, Dallas Sports Source: What can you do to get more participation in youth football?

Bobby Sena, NFL Play 60 Super Kid: “Play 60 is an important part of my life, but how do you play 60? I told you it was a tough question.”

Ticket prices

Dave Briggs, CNBC: The average ticket is more than $10,000. Is that a concern that the league has looked into?

Media

Mike Garafolo, FOX Sports 1: Marshawn Lynch’s cooperation or lack thereof with the media has become a big story. What’s your take on how he handled the media this week and will he be fined?

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PFT’s Super Bowl picks

Richard Sherman, Tom Brady AP

It’s finally here. And I still have no clear idea who will win. Even though a blowout could be brewing (especially if the Patriots can duplicate what the Packers did in the NFC title game before opting not to play to win but playing not to lose), I don’t have a really strong feeling.

But enough of that. This is the part where I write a few paragraphs to set up the picks.

And then I say the MDS and I were both accurate with our conference title picks, and that he’s 9-1 for the postseason, and I’m 7-3.

MDS’s take: Moving past #Deflategate and Marshawn Lynch sparring with reporters and all of the off-field issues of the last two weeks, I keep thinking it comes down to this: Seattle’s defense is just too good.

Last year the Seahawks’ defense made Peyton Manning look bad in the Super Bowl, and this year I think the Seahawks’ defense is going to make Tom Brady look bad in the Super Bowl. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are about as good as it gets in the NFL, and I don’t think Brady is going to find many open receivers on Sunday. If there’s one weakness to Seattle’s defense it’s that a good tight end can beat them, and as a result I can see Rob Gronkowski having a big day. But even if Gronk gets 100 yards and a touchdown, that won’t be enough on a day when I don’t expect any of the Patriots’ wide receivers to play well.

The reason this game will be a lot closer than last year’s Super Bowl is that I don’t see Seattle putting a lot of points on the board. Bill Belichick will have a good game plan to neutralize Russell Wilson’s running, and the Patriots’ secondary should be able to shut down Seattle’s wide receivers. This looks like a fairly low-scoring game.

But in the end, it’s a game that sees Seattle coming out on top. The Seahawks will repeat.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 21, Patriots 17.

Florio’s take: Back in September, I picked the Seahawks and Patriots to make it to the Super Bowl. And I picked the Seahawks to win. And I can’t in good conscience abandon that selection.

I could be wrong. Very wrong. The Patriots may finish the job the Packers started. The Patriots may give Russell Wilson the Tim Tebow treatment, blowing the Seahawks out in the first half so that there’s no chance for a rabbit-from-hat finish. Or maybe it will be a close, down-to-the-wire, three-point margin with Stephen Gotskowski playing the role of Adam Vinatieri.

Coach Bill Belichick has the uncanny ability to develop a game plan that is unique to each opponent, figuring out how to move the ball against any defense he faces — and how to take away what any offense does best. Throw in the #DeflateGate disrespect, and Belichick may be able to press enough buttons to overcome the Seahawks.

But it’s the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, not Cincinnati in Week Five. Sometimes, no amount of Xs and Os and “us against them” and “win one for the Gipper” matters. G.M. John Schneider has put together an excellent roster, and Pete Carroll has coached them up to the point where they believe they can beat anyone.

This year, they didn’t beat everyone, but all that matters on Sunday is whether the can score more points than the Patriots. I believed they could in September, so I’ve got no choice but to stick with that now.

Florio’s pick: Seahawks 27, Patriots 24.

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Belichick, Carroll both downplay eligible receiver issue

belichickcarroll AP

The Patriots have confused both of their playoff opponents by switching offensive players back and forth from eligible to ineligible receivers. But neither coach Bill Belichick nor his opponent on Sunday, Pete Carroll, thinks that’s going to be an issue in the Super Bowl.

At the coaches’ final media appearance today, PFT asked both coaches about the issue, and they both said they’re confident that the officials will handle any such plays properly, with no problems.

“That’s not my job, so whatever the officials do, that’s their protocol and their mechanics, so whatever that is, you should direct that concern to the league,” Belichick said.

Carroll said that he is confident the officials will handle the Patriots’ formations correctly. And although there have been some suggestions that Belichick is pushing the bounds of the rules when he tries those formations, Carroll said he admires the Patriots for constantly finding new ways to play.

“I don’t have any problem with the way it’s been handled,” Carroll said. “Bill has done a good job of challenging us with really unique and innovative ideas in how to move people around. . . . I don’t think there’s going to be any issue.”

Here’s hoping that Carroll is right. It would be nice to see the NFL get through a game without an officiating issue.

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Prosecutors say Hernandez DNA found on joint, bullet casing

Hernandez AP

The first Aaron Hernandez murder trial got rolling on Thursday, with opening statements in the case arising from the June 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd.

Via the Boston Herald, prosecutors revealed during their overview of the evidence to be introduced two intriguing pieces of information. A marijuana joint was found near Lloyd’s body, and the joint had DNA evidence that matches Hernandez’s. Likewise, a bullet casing found in a rental car used by Hernandez contained DNA matching Hernandez’s.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time a jury disregarded overwhelming DNA evidence in a murder case involving a former NFL player. But Hernandez’s lawyer, Michael Fee, possibly will need something on the level of an “if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit” moment to overcome the DNA evidence.

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Jeff Blake says every team takes air out of the footballs

jeffblake Getty Images

Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake can’t figure out what the big deal is with Deflategate.

Blake spent time with seven different teams, and he says he always instructed ball boys to take air out of footballs to improve his grip.

“I’m just going to let the cat of the bag, every team does it, every game, it has been since I played,” Blake said on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, via NJ.com. “Cause when you take the balls out of the bag, they are rock hard. And you can’t feel the ball as well. It’s too hard. Everybody puts the pin in and takes just enough air out of the ball that you can feel it a little better. But it’s not the point to where it’s flat. So I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not something that’s not been done for 20 years.”

Blake said his pre-game ritual always included checking footballs and taking some air out if they were too hard to grip.

“Well, I would say [to a ball boy], ‘Take a little bit of air out of it. It’s a little bit hard,'” Blake said. “And then he’d take a little bit out and I’d squeeze it and I’d be like, ‘OK, it’s perfect.’ That’s it.”

With the Patriots now facing scrutiny for using under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game, Blake is wondering why this is suddenly an issue.

“I guess it wasn’t a big deal back then, but it is now,” he said.

It’s a very big deal in the media. It may not be a big deal to NFL players, some of whom say deflating footballs is just part of the business.

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Confusion continues about refs signaling Patriots’ ineligible receivers

blandino AP

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Thursday morning that the NFL has instructed its officials to use a new signal in the Super Bowl to inform defensive players which offensive players are eligible receivers and which offensive players are ineligible. That came as news to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

“I haven’t heard anything about that, so we’ll see what happens,” Belichick told pool reporter Jarrett Bell at the Patriots’ Thursday practice. “I’ll check it out.”

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said there’s nothing new for Belichick to check out: Carroll misunderstood, and there is no new signal. It’s unclear where Carroll got that idea, as he said on Thursday morning that he was informed by the league that the officials were changing the way they officiate when the Patriots run trick plays.

“The new signal is the referee will point to the player that has the eligible number and he’ll signal that he is not eligible. That’s the new thing. They’ve never done that before,” Carroll said.

So where did Carroll get that idea? It’s unclear, but Super Bowl referee Bill Vinovich seemed to have the same idea. Vinovich and Blandino had an awkward moment in front of the press when Blandino told Vinovich that he shouldn’t tell the defense which ineligible receivers not to cover, something that came as news to Vinovich.

The Patriots’ trick plays surprised the defenses of the Ravens and Colts in their playoff games. Those plays also seem to have confused everyone else in the NFL. Even the officiating department.

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DeMarco Murray doesn’t think he’s easily replaceable

Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Getty Images

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said last week that it would be “silly” to think that any running back could have been dropped into the lineup and given the team what DeMarco Murray gave them during the 2014 season, a point he made in response to those who feel that the Cowboys offensive line and overall offensive talent played a major role in Murray’s success.

Given their salary cap situation and other free agents on the roster, however, the general feeling is that the Cowboys won’t be breaking the bank to bring Murray back for the 2015. Finding a back to work for less shouldn’t be hard, but Murray echoed Witten’s take Thursday when asked about finding one to play as well.

“I would like to see how it goes,” Murray said on NFL Network. “I would like to see how that plan would work for them. I don’t pay attention to it. You know, I have full confidence in myself and my ability to do what I’m capable of doing. I know my talents, I know how hard I play and, you know, I know what I bring to the table. So I’m not worried about it and, you know, I don’t hear it.”

Leading the league in rushing by nearly 500 yards sets Murray up for a nice payday even by the standards of the relatively depressed market for running backs in today’s NFL. That makes it likelier that the Cowboys will get a chance to see how fungible the running back spot really is in their offense.

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Joe Montana thinks Tom Brady ordered footballs to be deflated

Rudy Giuliani & Joe Montana Visit FOX & Friends Getty Images

Tom Brady has said many times this week that Joe Montana was his childhood hero. Brady probably won’t be thrilled with his favorite player’s thoughts about Deflategate.

“If I ever want a ball a certain way, I don’t do it myself,” Montana said, via the Boston Globe. “So, somebody did it for him. But I don’t know why everybody is making a big deal out of trying to figure out who did it. It’s pretty simple. If it was done, it was done for a reason.”

Montana doesn’t seem to think deflated footballs are a big deal, but he also doesn’t think the Patriots’ footballs would have become deflated in the AFC Championship Game for any reason other than Brady wanting someone to do it.

“I mean, it’s easy to figure out who did it,” Montana said. “Did Tom do it? No, but Tom likes the balls that way, obviously, or you wouldn’t have 11 of them that way without him complaining, because as a quarterback, you know how you like the ball. If it doesn’t feel like that, something is wrong. It’s a stupid thing to even be talking about because they shouldn’t have the rule anyway. If you want to see the game played at the best, everybody has a different grip, everybody likes a different feel.”

If the Patriots win on Sunday, Brady will join Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting quarterbacks to earn four Super Bowl rings.

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Wilson thinks NFL fines for Marshawn are excessive

wilsonmarshawn AP

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is one of the NFL’s golden boys, a player who conducts himself in public exactly the way the league wants. But if Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a different approach, Wilson thinks that’s fine.

Wilson said he thinks the fines that the NFL has threatened Lynch with are excessive. All Wilson cares about is that Lynch is a good teammate.

“There’s times I don’t think he should be fined, that’s for sure, especially to the extent that people try to fine him for,” Wilson said. “That’s just my honest opinion. I think the guy loves the game, people love the way he is, and sometimes people try to take certain things away from people, the way they are. I don’t know. I don’t think he should be fined for it, personally.”

Lynch has risked fines this week both for spending only five minutes a day in the presence of reporters and for wearing his own Beast Mode hats rather than NFL-authorized gear. It wouldn’t be surprising if the NFL ends up fining Lynch so much that he actually loses money for appearing in the Super Bowl. That sounds ridiculous to Wilson — and surely to many NFL players who think the NFL is too heavy-handed in its practice of fining players.

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NFL didn’t log the PSI of each Patriots football

Football Getty Images

What was the precise PSI of each of the 12 footballs the Patriots’ offense used in the AFC Championship Game? We’ll probably never know.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed today that the NFL didn’t log the exact PSI of each football. According to Blandino, when officials inspect footballs to see if they’re properly inflated, they simply approve them or disapprove them.

In other words, although the Patriots did play with under-inflated footballs, the NFL hasn’t kept detailed records of whether those footballs were slightly under-inflated (which could be the result of a change in temperature) or significantly under-inflated (which would indicate that someone purposely let air out of the footballs).

The NFL will apply a low standard of proof to the Deflategate investigation, which means that the NFL doesn’t necessarily need an air-tight case to conclude that the Patriots broke the rules. But anyone who wants the NFL to get to the bottom of this should want the NFL to be as careful as it possibly can to preserve every piece of evidence it possibly can. And a detailed log of the inflation levels of each football is a piece of evidence the NFL should have.

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Lions have proposed expanding replay to cover penalty calls

Cowboys take down Lions; head to Green Bay next Getty Images

The Lions lost to the Cowboys in the Wild Card round of the playoffs in a game that featured officials picking up a flag for pass interference on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the fourth quarter.

That decision helped keep the door open for Dallas to win the game and NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in the days after the game that there should have been a defensive holding call on the play at the very least. The Lions would like to see all teams have a chance to challenge such rulings in the future.

At a press conference in Arizona Thursday, Blandino said that the Lions have made a proposal to expand replay so that it includes penalty calls in the future.

“We’ve had discussions going back to last offseason talking about expanding replay and adding to the list of reviewable plays,” Blandino said, via the Lions website. “I think when you look at the evolution of replay and where it started, it was always based in fact. Did the football touch the ground? Did the foot touch the sideline? And we stayed away from the areas that involved subjective judgement. There’s always judgement, but there’s different levels of subjective judgement and that was in the areas of pass interference and offensive holding. I think it’s something as the technology has improved and now we have high definition and super slow motion and 4K, all of that technology begs the question can we eliminate some of the mistakes that happen during the game? I think that’s something that’s going to be on the agenda this offseason.”

Over the years, one of the chief objections to expanding replay is that it would lead to slower games. It’s hard to see where there would be a huge rise in the number of challenges if the current arrangement for coaches is kept in place, however, and the ability to make the correct ruling on the field rather than in a press release after a game should be an appealing one.

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NFL health and safety report says concussions, ACLs are down

New York Giants v New York Jets

Good news everybody, football isn’t dangerous any more.

The league issued its annual health and safety report Thursday, highlighting all the progress seemingly made in the prevention of injuries.

Among the numbers, they cite concussions down 25 percent from 2013 to 2014, and concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits down 28 percent in the last year.

Of course, the raw numbers are still alarming, as there were a total of 202 concussions in practice, preseason and regular season games last year, down from 229 in 2013 and 261 in 2012.

The league numbers also dispute the anecdotal notion (held by much of their workforce) that Thursday games are bad for your health, with an average of 4.8 injuries per Thursday games last year compared to 6.9 injuries per game on Sundays and Mondays.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account the wear and tear provided by the short weeks, and how the shortened recovery time could contribute to some of those weekend aches and pains.

Fewer ACL’s are being sprained however, with “just” 49 this year as opposed to 57 the year before. MCL’s are doing worse, with 138 this year after 136 the last year.

The reality is, football remains dangerous to those who play it, despite any efforts to make it safer, or to suggest that it’s becoming safer.

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Vermeil blames “poor management” for changes in San Francisco

Vermeil Getty Images

Former Eagles, Rams and Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil doesn’t care for the way Jim Harbaugh was treated on the way out the door in San Francisco.

Vermeil said on PFT Live that the 49ers should have shown enough respect for the work Harbaugh did to hold onto him.

“San Francisco was a mess before Jim Harbaugh took over. He straightened it out,” Vermeil said. “To me, that should never happen.”

Vermeil believes that if the 49ers’ management is committed to winning, then the 49ers need to find a way to make things work with a successful coach like Harbaugh.

“To me, it’s poor management. It’s probably more personal than anything. But if you’re mature you’ve got to be able to work those things out,” Vermeil said.

The 49ers’ management couldn’t work things out with Harbaugh. If Jim Tomsula doesn’t have the kind of success in San Francisco that Harbaugh did, plenty of San Francisco fans will agree with Vermeil, and blame owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke for poorly managing Harbaugh’s departure.

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Josh Gordon: I failed myself again, but I will persevere

Cleveland Browns v Atlanta Falcons Getty Images

Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has received plenty of criticism since word broke recently of a one-year suspension for a failed test for alcohol use and he answered some of his critics in an open letter on Medium.com on Thursday.

In the letter, which is addressed to Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter and “other interested parties,” Gordon took issue with those who claim he has substance abuse problems. He explained that he had several drinks on a flight to Las Vegas after the end of the season and then received a notice to report for testing after he arrived.

“In the end, of course, I failed myself,” Gordon wrote. “It doesn’t matter if I thought that the league-imposed restriction on drinking had expired at the end of the regular season; what matters is that I didn’t confirm whether or not that was the case. Now, that oversight has further jeopardized my relationship with my team and our fans, my reputation, and maybe even my career.”

Gordon writes that “words cannot express” his remorse and regret for putting himself in this position while outlining other times that he’s failed to take advantage of the opportunities his football ability has provided him. He’s also adamant that those criticizing him don’t know his entire story, much of which he details, and vows to persevere to a future he believes is bright.

“What I do know is the following: I am not a drug addict; I am not an alcoholic; I am not someone who deserves to be dissected and analyzed like some tragic example of everything that can possibly go wrong for a professional athlete. And … I am not going to die on account of the troubled state you wrongly believe my life to be in. I am a human being, with feelings and emotions and scars and flaws, just like anyone else. I make mistakes  —  I have made a lot of mistakes  —  but I am a good person, and I will persevere.”

There’s a lot more to the letter and there’s ample time for a 23-year-old to make good on that vow, but Gordon’s reached a point where actions, not words, will determine where his life goes from here.

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Aaron Hernandez murder trial gets underway

Aaron Hernandez AP

While many of Aaron Hernandez’s former Patriots teammates are preparing to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Hernandez is in a Massachusetts courtroom for the first day of his trial on charges that he murdered Odin Lloyd.

The trial got underway on Thursday after a slight delay caused by the failure of one member of the 18-person jury to appear for service. That juror was replaced and the attorneys for both sides delivered their opening statements.

In his opening, prosecutor Patrick Bomberg said, via the Boston Globe, that Hernandez and two other men took Lloyd “to a secluded, isolated area in North Attleborough, a town where Odin Lloyd knew no one but the defendant and the defendant’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. There Odin Lloyd was shot 6 times. He was killed and he was left in a secluded area.”

Bomberg said that a joint with DNA from Hernandez and Lloyd was found near Lloyd’s body, a footprint at the scene matched Hernandez’s sneakers and that surveillance video from Hernandez’s home security system shows Hernandez, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace returning to Hernandez’s home without Lloyd shortly after the crime allegedly occurred.

Hernandez’s attorney Michael Fee countered by saying that the investigation was “sloppy” and that the evidence against his client is circumstantial. Fee also argues that the prosecution has not found a motive for Hernandez to murder someone he describes as a friend who Hernandez smoked marijuana with frequently.

Several members of the Patriots organization and former pro and college teammates of Hernandez’s are on the witness list for the trial. Wallace and Ortiz will be tried separately.

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