League, union disagree on collusion

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At a time when the NFL and the NFL Players Association don’t agree on much, they definitely don’t agree on whether teams are colluding in free agency.

Earlier today, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent an email to all agents regarding the current free agent market and the apparent claims from some teams that salary-cap issues are restricting spending.  Since then, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah has published the current cap numbers for every team; that’s something the union rarely if ever has done.

Smith’s email, a copy of which PFT has obtained, concludes with this message to agents:  “Finally, we have heard reports of a concern that teams are working in concert to ‘peg’, ‘rig’ or ‘set’ market prices on player contracts.  If you believe or have information that the teams have been colluding during this free agency period, you have a responsibility as an agent of the NFLPA to come forward and share that information with us.”

While the NFLPA has yet to formally accuse the league or its teams of collusion, the union undoubtedly is looking for any evidence to support a conclusion that teams have expressly or implicitly reached agreements as to the offers that will be made to players — which by definition is collusion.

Predictably, the NFL contends that no collusion has occurred.  “Player signings in 2013 have been characterized by robust spending and intense competition,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told NFL Network’s Albert Breer.  “Anyone seeing collusion in this market is seeing ghosts.”

While we’re not able to conclude at this point that collusion has occurred, the market this year hardly has been “robust,” and the competition for players definitely hasn’t been “intense.”  The initial spending spree to open the market was limited, with a smaller-than-usual handful of players signing big-money deals.  Apart from Joe Flacco’s record contract that resulted directly from the Ravens’ reluctance to use either level of the franchise tag, no high-water marks were set this year.

Collusion doesn’t come only from agreements to “peg” or “rig” or “set” market prices.  It also comes from seemingly innocuous efforts to compare notes as to how other teams value a given position in light of a slowly-growing salary cap.  While it’s impossible to prove that such communications occurred unless and until a disgruntled team employee blows the whistle (or until the league tries to punish teams that didn’t comply with the unwritten agreement by taking away salary-cap money after the fact), there’s nothing wrong with the union or anyone else looking at the circumstantial evidence and becoming suspicious.

The NFL would prefer that neither the media nor the union investigate the possibility of collusion, and one potentially effective strategy would be the issuance of dismissive statements vouching for the absence of collusion and suggesting that anyone who suspects otherwise is stupid or delusional or both.

It’s entirely possibly that I’m both stupid and delusional, but there’s something about the current free-agency market that doesn’t smell right.  And when that happens, the right thing to do is follow one’s nose to wherever the odor leads.

66 responses to “League, union disagree on collusion

  1. Ok, maybe there’s collusion.

    But occam’s razor says that the introduction of super-cheap, newly minted labor (rookie cap) has driven down the price of experienced, expensive, pre-existing labor.

    I mean, look at Brandon Albert. He’s making $9 mil to play LT, a premier skill(-ish) position. The Chiefs are potentially going to draft Luke Joekel to play LT, for which he will be paid about $490,000.

    Is Albert worth 18 Joekels?

  2. The teams and GMs are too competitive to collude. If there is a player out there that can help a team win, I have to believe a GM would pull the trigger on a higher offer to get their guy rather than allowing someone else to potentially get that player at an extremely discounted price. These GMs have their jobs on the line and all need to win to increase their job security. Players that dont have teams yet are usually over the hill players like Freeny who think its still 2008 and think they should be paid on past production instead of likely future production.

  3. Maybe teams saw the Redskins with Mr. Snyder be the big winners in March but never win anything in January. You think maybe the disaster of the “Dream Team” in Philly might make a few teams think that building through the draft like the Ravens, Giants, 49ers and Packers have largely done might be the way to go.

    Signing big free agents gets the fans excited but as the old saying goes in professional sports, “If you listen to the fans you will end up sitting with them.” What free agent this year was suppose to demand big money? There was no top pass rusher like Mario and the only good QB got a top deal. I don’t see collusion, I see GMs recognizing that this is a young mans game and you don’t win by signing players whose best years are over to cap killing deals.

  4. Perhaps the rest of the NFL realized that if a team can win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco then it’s just plain random luck and there’s no reason to spend tons of money on free agents.

  5. Wait, I think you need to keep around 6 million to sign your drafted players. Now take a look at the figures the union released and then figure out why a lot of teams are not signing free agents. there are, what 20 teams under ten million at the moment
    On top of that wouldnt you want to keep some money to sign players in case of emergency-roll over-when future players are cut?

    Its not rocket science

  6. maybe if half if not more of the higher priced free agents didnt just absolutely suck and waste their team’s money; there might have been more to go around. People are tired of spending huge cash to get a Reggie White and getting Haynesworth instead.

    agents are mad the dollars aren’t there. Jeez maybe its because everyone paid attention to the 2011 and 2012 Philadelphia Eagles disaster.

  7. Who needs to collude when you see signings like Adalius Thomas, Nnamdi Asomugha, Mario Williams, and Jared Gaithers. That would scare me away.

  8. It is kind of odd that you can count on one hand the number of people that have actually read War and Peace.

    However 1/3 of the people who comment here have read War and Peace by word volume on this site.

    I am willing to bet that 1/3 is way more knowledgeable on football then War and Peace….

    Just saying…..

  9. How about there were a large number of CB’s of average skills on the market and that caused CB salaries to be depressed fr this free agency period?

    If you have a dozen guys on the market that are hard to distinguish among it tends to drive down prices as all of them contend with low offers. If a guy turns down an offer you make the offer to the next guy on your list. Somebody is going to take your $5M eventually.

    WR’s got good deals because there weren’t very many on the market and at least one of them was a real star.

  10. The biggest problem is the flat cap and weak free agent class. The headliners like Mike Wallace, Joe Flacco, Dwayne Bowe, Jared Cook, Andy Levitre, and Paul Kruger all got paid.

    The bigger problem is that the headliners of this FA class included guys like Levitre and Paul Kruger. It is just a weak class and teams are hopefully catching on that overspending in free agency isn’t the way to go.

  11. It’s ashame the way owners and the NFL treats its players. The players make the NFL period and I know no one tunes in on Sunday for the NFL executives or owners. The players killed themselves during the CBA negotiation. They couldn’t come to together fight for what is fair and the couldn’t save there $ and endure the lookout . It’s ashame that every NFL player went to college but aren’t smart enough to know they had enough power to negotiate a better deal.

  12. Too funny. What smells is the players available. They all stink. Common sense for a change. Nothing illegal about that I’m afraid.

  13. Since the collusion of the so-called “uncapped” year that screwed the Cowboys, Redskins, and to a lesser degree the Raiders and Saints out of cap dollars, I have no problem believing that collusion is happening yet again. Watch for some bogus penalties in the next off-season for those that may have “over-spent” in this off-season.

    By the way, if the comments section of this site should happen to go by the wayside, I appreciate that I was given the opportunity to speak my mind.

  14. Free agents have clearly been devalued by the new rookie wage scale. Add the blockbuster contracts for quarterbacks and the flat salary cap, and it doesn’t add up to huge contracts in free agency for many players.

    Anyone else think the formulas should be simplified, and we should do away with all of the games with contracts to push cap money around? It’s become a shell game, one that cost the 49ers for years, over a decade.

  15. In the era of salary caps and disposable players, only the top dogs are gonna get the big deals. It seems that GMs have learned from the past mistakes made, and have learned something from seeing all the dead weight deals that sink teams in the NBA, MLB, and the NHL. Every position except for QB in this era is easily replaceable.

  16. If this list is accurate, they must not be including any futures contract, any contracts offered to restricted free agents,etc. As a Packer fan, my count shows that the Packers has 60 players under contract. Take away the 8 practice squad players who signed futures contract and several street free agents I can come up with 49 contracts. It looks like the union has tendered a list that is not fully accurate. Imagine that!

  17. There’s no football-related reason why the Vikings would not use their cap room to sign Victor Cruz to an offer sheet to replace Percy Harvin. Unless, of course, the owners have colluded and told their GMs not to make any RFA offers.

    Billionaires do not become billionaires by accident and bending the rules when it’s in their best interest is not just a possibility, it’s standard operating procedure.

  18. Well first of all, there was a legal tampering period this year. Perhaps that had something to do with getting an idea of what guys were worth? Second of all there were guys like Aqib Talib who took a one year deal with my team instead of the multiyear deal he was offered. I have to think this is more agent driven in that they know their clients will have a better market after a one year deal and letting the cap shake out a little.

    But it wouldn’t stun me if De Smith is pulling another “look, a squirrel” type diversion so the players think he is doing something for the huge dues they pay the union. Remember he acquiesced to penalizing Dallas, NO and Washington by removing some of their cap space.

  19. To even hint at collusion is to besmirch the reputation of men like Ted Thompson if the Green Bay Packers. Thompson has been NFL Executive of the Year not once, but twice! A man like that would never foul the competitive marketplace with anything as fetid as colluding with other teams. He, the rest of the Packers and the community of Green Bay, are the hard-working honest folks whose forefathers built this country. Have you no sense of decency, sir?

  20. Or if all else fails we’ll just blame it on the two teams that don’t do anything different than the rest of the teams – Dallas and Washington – since they are worth the most.

  21. In total cap dollars league wide, is less money being spent this year than in past years? I think not, there are only 10 teams with 10+mil in cap room currently. The issue is the extremely crappy deal the players got which is causing the cap to not increase.

  22. There is a new young breed of GMs throughout the league now. These guys are smart enough to know big spending in free agency doesn’t equate to Super Bowl rings. People getting wiser, learning from past mistakes and getting better at their jobs doesn’t mean there is collusion.

  23. Maybe the odor leads right back to you and DeMaurice Smith. The problem is, while you and everyone else was screaming what idiots the Ravens were for giving Joe Flacco 120 million per year, he will end up being about the tenth highest paid QB in 3-4 years!
    The going price for a Franchise QB moving forward is going to be somewhere between 20 & 30 million per year. Look what Romo got. He’s hardly worth that since he’s not a Big Game QB, always choking in Crunch Time. I can’t wait for all the Mediocre QBs to start making more than Flacco in 2-3 years time. I really expected Romo to get more. After all, he’s a better Fantasy QB than Flacco. Unfortunately, that’s also where most of his wins are – Fantasy Land.
    The fact of the matter is, when you have a “Franchise QB” you have to give him 15-20% of the Cap Money. That doesn’t leave much for the rest of the roster.

  24. Not sure about any collusion for UFA’s… but RFA’s there is definitely an unwritten rule that thou shalt not scalp my talent.

    Either it’s a courtesy and respect thing, or teams and GM’s have agreed to not utilize that aspect of free agency. I can’t even recall off the top of my head the last time a team lost a RFA

  25. Perhaps there are not that many top dollar players either…….Could that be part of the reason?

    I actually think it is being operated within the confines of capitalism……and it is doing well….

  26. He is delusional! The mara’s wanted to keep the rest of the NFC East at bay.

    The owners love it because they HATE Jerra and Danny boy.

    Jerra paid for his staduim!!!! That’s the taxpayers job!!!
    Danny boy luvs paying too much to the stars!!!

    The Igles are the one of the only teams thats paying out!!!

    Watch! They’ll get a cap penalty soon.

    No wait! They still have Vick! That’s enough for one team…

  27. It’s pretty clear the NFL is scared and worried. The comment about seeing “ghosts” is quite peculiar. Either there is collusion going on or it is not. If somebody feels they have “seen” direct evidence of collusion, then it’s odd to wonder why that would be like seeing a ghost. I don’t know of any employer in this world that can guarantee that every single employee will follow every single rule. Why is it not possible for somebody to break the collusion rules and simply be spotted? To suggest that anybody making a rules violation claim must be making it up or seeing things is an incredibly bizarre stance to take. We could all feel better living in a society with perfect 0% rape and murder rates too. So if we strive to achieve perfection then would it make sense to assume that any time that any person cries rape or murder that they must be wrong?

    I don’t believe Breer can make this assumption and get away with not being pegged as incredibly worried, or incredibly stupid, considering I don’t know how he could have acquired perfect knowledge of every relevant conversation that has taken place between league members. He must be one of the two, and therefore so must the NFL that he operates on behalf of.

  28. Maybe if years of huge contracts and prorated up-front money by several teams over the years hadn’t got out of control perhaps teams would spend more in free agency. The Cowboys are a prime example of overpaying for talent. Look at their cap, how many guys restructured, and how much guaranteed money was pushed further out with extensions, and they are in the same position next year.

    The NFLPA and players’ true colors come through with comments like this. The economy stinks, people are struggling as it is, and they don’t care. More money is all De Smith knows. Glad that the NFLPA make idiotic claims like this, because it further proves they don’t care about the fans who are impacted by owners passing on these bigger contracts through PSL’s, merchandise, concessions, and it goes on!

    It’s about time teams stop overpaying for players who have one good year. Ask the jags about Laurent Robinson.

    Fans don’t fell sorry for players or the unions with comments like this. Add in Goodell ruining the game, and soon-to-be pro flag football.

    Both the NFL and NFLPA need to hit by the fans with some perspective!

  29. There is no contract collusion. A guy with 15.5 CAREER sacks just got a $40M contract(Kruger). That’s 2.58M per sack. If the owners/GMs were colluding, don’t you think they’dve prevented that OBVIOUS overpayment from happening, if only to keep actual good players from getting similar contracts?

  30. The so-called ‘trade’ of Boldin to SFO… that was collusion!
    But, what you are seeing today in the FA market is the product of the new wave of GM’s who follow Green Bay and other teams that believe in building from the inside and not overpaying for players.

    I thought the new CBA included a payroll ‘floor’ but maybe it doesn’t kick in yet. When that happens, teams will have to spend it or lose it.


  31. The union gave up its right to complain about collusion when it agreed to the cap penalties against the Redskins and Cowboys. Why they would use that most obvious of examples of collusion ever displayed to sue the league for hundreds of millions of dollars is beyond me.

  32. They wanted to get rookie contracts under control since players like Jamarcus were getting loads of money and were unproven and it was felt that a lot of that money should go to veterans who have proven themselves in the league.

    Now the rookies are getting smaller contracts but it is leading to veterans also getting smaller contracts since teams can just continue to reload with rookies for cheap.

  33. If there is no collusion can anyone explain why Victor Cruz hasnt gotten even a nibble. You mean to tell me Percy, who is a injury risk and has never had a 1000 yard season, is worth 3 draft picks and 13 million per. Victor has 2 1000 yard seasons and as a slot receiver wont cost near as much, cant get an offer. Even if it costs the team a first round pick. COME On MAN!!!

  34. I see canetic is stupid and delusional as well! Name a QB that has taken his team to 5 straight playoff appearances, 3 Conf championships and a Super Bowl in his first 5 seasons?

  35. So NFL teams have gotten together and decided they are not go to overpay for certain positions? I don’t see why you should break the bank for a punter anyways.

  36. Short-sighted of the union look the other way on owner collusion last year in their CBA, negating Skins & Cowboys’ complaint over Mara & Goodell’s ‘Cap Slap’. Now the union sees that such wage depression has become the norm. Duh Maurice Smith. What a moron.

    Salaries do seem depressed in the FA market. Maybe it’s a one year trend, but as this site has made clear over the past year, its pretty obvious collusion happened in the past. To do the math and see that it’s still happening isn’t a stretch…

  37. I dislike the salary cap floor rule but its existence removes much incentive for teams to lower salaries because the teams have to spend a certain amount by rule.

    Fewer high priced free agents and “cheap” rookies combine to mean much more for all the players in between.

    This is Union leadership posturing to look good to a few of the free agents. It is sad that the Union is trying to make the players dislike their employer. I suspect most younger players love the NFL but after hearing the Union bash them for years, the older players start to think of the NFL as tyrants instead of a vital part of one of the greatest sports productions on earth. Its as if they want the fans to hate the NFL. If successful in that pursuit, they will soon realize the folly of their plan.

  38. As the golden goose for players begins to age and die, how long before other market forces and options appear for enough players? Already there are not enough “elite” QB’s. How far behind can linebackers, running backs and other position players be to electing baseball, basketball, car dealerships, etc. after a successful local or national college campaign over the NFL? Decades hopefully but who knows. So much is changing so fast.

  39. I know you like to play the conspiracy theorist but to me it is as simple as the cap no jumping up much. Typically teams put a bigger emphasis on dollars toward the end of the contracts which bit a majority of the teams. A lot of teams are just trying to hold onto their core players.

    The mere fact you are siding with Smith says you are delusional.

  40. The only ones that are “colluding” here Mike are you, the NFLPA, and your agent friends. All working overtime trying to convince the fans that there is “collusion” going on.

    The fact of the matter is that as of right now virtually every team has already spent over 80% of their cap money and its only early April. Many are over 90%.

    I thought you were a capitalist Mike, what you should recognize is that there is a clear situation where supply has started to exceed demand, and having the NFLPA “leak” memos to you isn’t going to change the reality.

    That being said we are all resigned to the reality that you ARE going to pound this non-issue with daily posts regardless, because if your agent buddies don’t talk to you…..who will? 😉

  41. The only collusion was 30 teams and the commissioner taking $36 million from the redskins at the request of the giants owner

  42. It’s life of today. We’re losing the middle class. Owners realize just having a few high price guys doesn’t win championships. But you do see a lot of 2 to 3 million contracts for good players. Yes, there are vet minimums, but a ton of money is tied up in top guys. Teams are trying have depth because 1 or 2 injuries to a star, and there goes your investment. Don’t players realize that? The league needs to balance out. Players should be looking for long term health benefits and better retirement pay for after the glory days.

  43. You have to look at all the other evidence, rather than just look at the numbers and say something smells fishy.

    1 – We’ve been in a relatively flat cap situation for 3 seasons now? That’s about how long contracts go before they raise that cap level by a lot, right? 5 year contracts usually last about 3 years before the cap level rises dramatically and they redo it. With the flat cap, all those contracts suddenly can’t just redo, you have to cut or extend at reduced prices in order to keep the cap afloat.

    2 – Rookie wages are ridiculously low compared to current veteran contracts. competitivecompetitioncompeter already said it. Is Albert worth that many Joekels? Of course not. So you now look to just how much more worth is a veterean with experience versus a rookie who may be not quite as good (for now, and maybe franchise level later) but worth 1/18th the price. In a flat cap situation, the rookie will almost always win. This leads to depressed veteran salaries, as they lower expectations in order to keep their job.

    3 – truthfactory already said it as well. This is an intensely competitive sport. Everyone, even you, MF, say it’s not what have you done for me lately, but what can you do for me now. Especially in the last 5-10 years or so as GM’s have really started to get into the coaching carousel as well. There’s no way two teams would get together and set down terms on what they would pay for certain players. If two teams were competing, they phoned eachother up and both said numbers. How quickly do you think one would change in order to get the guy they want beacuse they think it will help the team win now? Probably about as fast as it takes to hang up the phone and call the agent.

    With all that, veterans may be mumbling about collusion, and people may think they smell something rotten, but while it may look bad on the surface, get into the weeds and I think you have a very legitimate reason for what is happening right now with all those veterans.

  44. Seems like the only guys getting paid this year are the QBs… even back up QBs!!!!!

    How does Kolb get more money than Cliff Avril?

  45. That divorce must be killing Jeffrey Laurie. He use to spend, now he’s hoarding cash to pay his ex-wife.

  46. A lot of dynamics at play here; RElatively flat salary cap for at least 3(prob 4) consec yrs, yet QB pay is continuing to climb, the rookie wage scale (particularly 1st & 2nd rounders) makes giving the over 30 vets big $ just not feasible in many cases, and many of the current GM’s have learned (or got their positions because their predecessors didn’t learn) that big $$ to a few free agents (think Tampa & Buffalo in 012) won’t normally get the job done – ie winning season/playoffs.

  47. The Pats, Ravens, Steelers are very successful models of teams that usually don’t overspend in free agency and manage the cap well so they usually have a lot of depth.

    Perhaps a lot of the less well run teams are starting to realize that overpaying for a handful of of great players does not get you to the playoffs very often once the injuries start hitting.

  48. Perhaps Smith who got his clock cleaned by the owners can’t let anything go without lawsuits that has no merit and only enrich the law firms he has business interest with. This man should be fired because he is inept. Smith screwed the players in the CBA and now he is bleeding them dry in legal fees.

  49. Wow. I actually agree with florio for a change. The RFA non-tenders of recent years is the most telling of all. And the loopholes of avoiding the “cap floor” are a joke. (see the Bengals)

  50. Since the NFLPA agree to colude against the Cowboys and Redskins, I hope the NFLPA loses all of their collusion cases. Can we say Hypocrites.

  51. I think the reason you are hearing of collusion is because Smith pushed the CBA with the rookie wage scale telling all his members that there would be more money for the veterans. But GMs and cap experts are still trying to make good decisions and that means not paying mediocre talent top shelf money. Now Smith needs to come up with an excuse as to why the money isn’t flowing.

    “But, but, but, collusion!”

    No, how about a relatively poor free agent class and too many teams making bad decision by giving big money to too few players. (I’m looking at you Buffalo and Baltimore)

  52. The people getting screwed the most by the current CBA are the runningbacks. Consider the RB who comes out of college at age 22, they’re subjected to below-market wages (by virtue of the rookie salary cap) for four years, and then can get RFA tendered, and then get the franchise tag. Now they’re 28 with one shot at a big payday before hitting that age number (30) where they’re kicked to the curb cause their body has broken down after nearly a decade of heavy hits from 300lb lineman and 250lb linebackers.

    For those of you thinking this guy can make his millions and stop crying, how long until he looks at the paydays, career longevity, and after career quality of life of NBA and MLB players. The net result would be lower quality on the football field, and I for one wouldn’t be tuning in!

  53. The rollover money makes it difficul to determine if a team is holding back on spending because of collusion or proper planning. Should a team such as the Seahawks overspend this year and commit to long term deals, they will be unable to sign upcoming free agents of their own. The depressed rookie wage scale is forcing teams to hold down free agent spending when they have players of their own who are due raises in the near future.

  54. Well here’s a doozy, I agreed with the article and yet my comment still got deleted. At least you’re consistent with your randomness.

  55. vbe2 says: Apr 4, 2013 5:40 AM

    Unions need to die their rightful death. They are a drain on society.
    Exactly! How dare they have fought to ensure safer working conditions and a living wage! Bring back slavery, indentured servitude, and working conditions in which watching a fellow employee die is not an uncommon occurrence.

    Seriously, open up a history book, and while you’re at it, try an Economics text book as well. Unions are not a drain on society. If anything, they help to balance out some of the extreme advantages that employers have in the labor market, thereby reducing the market inefficiencies that become more pronounced as more and more power is concentrated in fewer hands. Markets (and as a result the allocation of our limited resources) become more efficient the closer you get to perfect competition. In other words, when anyone can enter or leave a market, and when resources are free to move about (and labor is a resource), resources will be allocated in such a way that they are being used to create the goods and services that consumers value the most and there will be less waste.

  56. It’s actually kind of funny seeing so many people comment on the nature of capitalism on this thread when they clearly have a limited understanding of Economics. First of all, the simple fact that something could be considered a capitalist practice does not automatically make it a good thing. All things being considered, capitalism is the superior economic system. There are, however, serious issues that can arise when businesses are free to act in any way that they want. That’s why certain regulations are required. Take pollution as an example, and no I’m not talking about pollution being bad in a subjective way. When companies are allowed to pollute at will, they shift a large part of the real cost of production to the public. Because of that, the market is artificially altered, and resources are wasted in that industry when they would be put to a more efficient use in another industry. Economists don’t care about labels, they care about efficiency.

  57. I agree with Florio that something doesn’t smell right with free agent contracts, but good luck trying to prove it. I think as fans though, we need to remember that in many cases there had to be a “market correction” at certain positions like cb. Does everybody remember when Al Davis waaaaay overpaid Nmandi and what it did to the market going forward. How ’bout the Haynesworth deal in DC? Exactly. How do you correct nonsense like that but to collude? how many teams have had to watch marginal free agents with delusions of grandeur walk because of such deals. It will get sorted out, but it will take time. Also, it could just be owner having in mind how much they are going to spend on certain positions and sticking to their budget. If so, good for them! Now, if the price for the elite starting qb could drop to less than 20% of a team’s cap each year that would be nice too!

  58. This league NEEDS collusion to keep it from collapsing on itself. Vested players are pricing themselves out of a job.

    The NFLPA colludes, but they call it Collective Bargaining.

    Any good corporation needs to discuss controlling expenses. Players salaries are the biggest expense. They have to be discussed. To not allow that will continue to water down the league.

  59. Teams are less likely to spend when the cap/floor doesn’t go up that much from year to year.

    At the same time though, there must be one team that is willing to pay Andre Smith more than what the Bengals are offering

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