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Battery charge against Caleb Brantley dismissed

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The misdemeanor battery charge against Browns rookie defensive tackle Caleb Brantley was dismissed Wednesday due to “insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction,” according to Alachua County (Fla.) Court records.

Brantley, who played college football at the University of Florida, had been charged on suspicion of misdemeanor battery following an alleged physical altercation with a woman, according to a Gainesville Police Department report. Brantley at the time of the alleged incident was considered one of the top interior defensive line prospects in the 2017 draft, but fell to the sixth round after his charge came to light.

“I’m grateful for today’s ruling,” Brantley said in a statement released by the Browns. “I won’t take the opportunity the Browns have given me for granted and now I can shift all my focus on working hard to make this football team while also showing my teammates, coaches, the organization and this community the type of person I really am.”

The Browns selected Brantley with the 185th pick in the draft, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported at the time that Cleveland deeply researched the matter and personally visited with Brantley before making the pick.

Browns executive vice president Sashi Brown told reporters after the draft, however, the team could decide not to keep Brantley depending on the investigation into the charge.

“Based on our information, we understood there was a reasonable chance that the charges would be dismissed,” Brown said in a statement. “As we have previously discussed, the allegations made regarding the incident were not something we take lightly. Caleb understands that we have an expectation and standard for every member of our organization. He’s a talented-young man with a great opportunity in front of him. Caleb must grow as a person from this situation. He is now able to move forward and focus on earning a spot on this roster.”

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Tom Brady will be on cover of ‘Madden NFL 18′

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Tom Brady can add one more line to the greatest résumé in NFL history: Madden cover boy.

The New England Patriots quarterback will be featured on the cover of Madden NFL 18, EA Sports announced Friday morning. It’s a first for the five-time Super Bowl champion, who follows in the footsteps of teammate Rob Gronkowski, the man on the cover of last year’s edition of the venerable gaming franchise. This marks the first time in Madden’s nearly 30-year history that teammates have been on the cover in back-to-back years.

It’s surprising Brady hadn’t previously garnered cover status given his myriad of accomplishments since entering the league in 2000. Brady, who turns 40 in August, is the oldest guy to grace the cover since John Madden himself was smiling maniacally for the cameras from 1988 through 2000. (Shameless plug: I did a complete power ranking of the 29 covers right here).

But Madden, like the rest of us, can no longer avoid a basic societal truth: Tom Brady has it all. And what he doesn’t have should be immediately turned over to him for fear of consequence. (I just purchased four copies of his $200 cookbook to appease the overlords.)

There’s an alternate universe where the Atlanta Falcons don’t blow a 28-3 third-quarter lead in the Super Bowl and Matt Ryan or perhaps Julio Jones are on the cover of this game. It’s one more indignity for Falcons fans to process during what we imagine continues to be a very difficult time. Ludacris is not getting out of bed today when he hears about this.

On the bright side, Falcons fans don’t have to hear about the infernal “Madden Curse,” a jinx so powerful it once allowed Calvin Johnson to finish a season with an NFL record 1,964 receiving yards. There will be hot takes across the span of your basic cable package today claiming that Brady has now put himself in great danger to see his unparalleled career cruelly compromised by the decision to enter into a business relationship with Electronic Arts Inc.

Counterpoint: Last year, Tom Brady whooped up on Father Time the way Ralphie destroyed Scott Farkus in A Christmas Story. Maybe Brady’s greatest accomplishment will come this year, when he wins his sixth Super Bowl ring and debunks the “Madden Curse” once and for all.

And yes, this is perhaps the greatest reverse jinx ever perpetrated by a sad Jets fan with nothing to lose.

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Cowboys to pump brakes on LB Jaylon Smith’s minicamp workload

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FRISCO, Texas — Jaylon Smith’s return to 11-on-11 work will have to wait until the organized team activities.

After saying during the draft that the Dallas Cowboys’ 2016 second-round pick would participate in the upcoming minicamp for the 2017 rookies, coach Jason Garrett said Sunday night that Smith will go through the meetings and walk-throughs only.

The Cowboys are in Phase 2 of their offseason program, which includes on-field teaching sessions as well as strength and conditioning work. After such a long layoff, the Cowboys want to be smart with Smith’s work on the field and not overly tax him from the start.

“He’s going to do the veteran stuff on the field on Tuesday and Thursday, so I don’t anticipate him doing a lot on the field over the weekend,” Garrett said at the Taste of the Cowboys event benefiting the North Texas Food Bank.

Smith did not play last season as he recovered from a serious knee injury that included nerve damage. He has done everything up to this point in the Cowboys’ offseason program as the nerve that affected his ability to lift his left foot continues to regenerate.

At the draft, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Smith has regained feeling and some movement in his toes that has the club encouraged he could have a full recovery and not need a brace for his foot when the season starts.

The Cowboys begin their organized team activities in two weeks. The offseason program ends after the June 13-15 minicamp.

“It seemed like he handled the work well last week, and he’s just done an amazing job right from the start with his rehab, taking it day by day, making progress, and we’ll continue to do that,” Garrett said. “If he takes that approach, that’s when he’s going to have his most success. That’s what he’s done up to this point.”

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Saquon Barkley won’t rule out skipping bowl game

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Some college players wouldn’t even consider skipping a bowl game to protect their NFL draft stock. Others, however, won’t dismiss out of hand the possibility.

Count Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in the latter group.

“I would have a hard time doing it,” Barkley, one of college football’s top returning players, told Sports Illustrated. “But I’m not going to sit here and say I would never do it. I don’t know. I could be in a situation next year where I have close to two broken ankles, God forbid, or something going on in my upper body and I can’t play in a game if I’m considering playing in the NFL.”

If Barkley’s remarks come across as lacking certainty, forgive him. After all, there are all kinds of factors, which don’t unveil themselves in May, that would weigh heavily in such a decision. Is the player regarded as a high draft pick? Is the player fully healthy? Is a championship at stake? And how might college teammates react to an early exit? These are questions Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey had to answer for themselves before skipping their bowl games, and their draft outcome (chosen Nos. 4 and 8 overall, respectively) was none the worse for it. This year’s most prominent example of a player whose draft value fell resulting from a bowl injury was Michigan TE Jake Butt, who was a fifth-round selection after tearing an ACL in the Orange Bowl.

According to at least one NFL personnel director, top players like Barkley will now be all the more tempted to make the choice Fournette and McCaffrey made.

Barkley (5-foot-11, 223 pounds) ran for 1,496 yards for the Nittany Lions last year with 18 touchdowns. The school has clocked him at a blazing 4.33 40-yard dash, and he enters his junior year this fall. He’s got a long way to go before even making the decision about whether to turn pro, much less whether to sit out a game before doing so.

But for now, he’s leaving all options open.

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Bears draft Mitchell Trubisky, 49ers take Solomon Thomas after teams swap Nos. 2, 3 picks

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The San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears swapped the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in the NFL draft, and the Bears used the second selection on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina.

In swapping spots with the Bears, the 49ers get Chicago’s third- and fourth-round picks (Nos. 67 and 111) in this draft and a third-rounder in 2018.

With the third pick, the 49ers chose defensive lineman Solomon Thomas of Stanford — the highest pick of a Cardinal player in any draft. He played just two seasons at Stanford.

Trubisky told ESPN after his selection that he had no idea the swap was happening and that he did not get a call to alert him to his selection.

“I didn’t think I was going to get picked until the commish made the call,” he said. “It was crazy. It’s a dream come true. It’s as surreal as it gets.”

Trubisky, who had just 13 starts in college, is the highest drafted quarterback by the Bears in the common draft era and first quarterback taken by the Bears since Rex Grossman in 2003.

The Bears had a clear need at quarterback after the club released Jay Cutler. However, most expected them to wait to address the position until Day 2. Veteran Mike Glennon, who the Bears signed in free agency, is scheduled to earn $16 million guaranteed in 2017.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace announced earlier in the offseason that Glennon is the team’s unquestioned starter, but Glennon’s long-term future in Chicago now looks bleak.

Meanwhile, recently hired 49ers GM John Lynch selected a player from his alma mater and, believe it or not, a former classmate.

For the Niners, Thomas will be expected to instantly improve a defense that finished last in the NFL in 2016 in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed and was fifth-worst in the NFL in pressures generated per dropback.

The 49ers have now used their top pick in each of the past three drafts on the defensive line, having selected Arik Armstead in 2015 and DeForest Buckner last year. Thomas has been projected as a left defensive end in coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defensive scheme with the versatility to move to the three-technique defensive tackle spot in passing situations.

Thomas could also theoretically play the right defensive end spot, also known as the “Leo” or “Elephant,” the position where the best pass rusher is expected to line up. At his pro day in March, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he believed Thomas was capable of playing all over the defensive line.

“I believe he can line up probably anywhere inside that he wants,” Shanahan said.

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Niners strongly considering a quarterback with draft’s No. 2 pick

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PHILADELPHIA — With four days to go before they are officially on the clock for the 2017 NFL Draft, the 49ers are still internally debating their No. 2 pick.

While most believe the first pick will be potentially transformative pass-rusher Myles Garrett from Texas A&M, San Francisco can go a number of different ways.

According to several sources with knowledge of the team’s thinking, the 49ers are still strongly considering taking a quarterback second overall. That would be somewhat of a surprise, considering they signed presumptive starter Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in the offseason — and they have Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins potentially as an option for 2018. Taking a quarterback high would likely end any chance at Cousins.

But the team does not yet have a long-term answer at quarterback, and those who know coach Kyle Shanahan well insist North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky would best fit what he does on offense. Trubisky is considered by some to be the top QB in the class, though evaluations at this position differ more greatly than any other spot in this draft.

San Francisco has done extensive homework on each of the top passers. If the 49ers are on the clock and poised to take Trubisky — over players like LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Stanford’s Solomon Thomas — it could create an interesting dilemma.

Several teams are plotting potentially trading up with the Niners or others for a quarterback, gauging the price and weighing options. The Browns are one of those teams, as are others who could draft a QB high.

At this point, Cody Kessler, who the Browns like, would be the starter.

The Browns front office believes Trubisky is the top draftable QB, sources say, but could they dissuade the 49ers from taking him by trading draft capital to get up from No. 12 to No. 2? Could they end up with picks 1 and 2, using the stockpiled selections to make a bold move?

Or does Cleveland choose patience, hoping their quarterback of choice is there for them if they sit tight or trade up just a few picks? At this point, that has not been decided.

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2017 NFL schedule release: Eight teams face long road trips

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The making of the NFL schedule is an imperfect science. And on Thursday morning, Michael North, the NFL’s senior director of broadcast planning and scheduling, was being reminded of just how imperfect it is, as he made calls to the teams to talk about their slates.

“It’s rare that you get to disappoint 32 billionaires and five television networks on the same day,” he said.

This year, the scheduling department churned through more “leaders” — schedules they thought might be the winner — than ever before. The one that was finally settled on emerged late in the process, and final approval only came in the last 48 hours.

As always, there were the requests not to play in Florida in September, or in Green Bay in December, and concerns about the shared parking lots with baseball teams, but at least there was no Pope or Queen (Bey) to contend with this year. Still, the World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo in late December explain why the Bills close with consecutive road games. Marathons in Detroit and Chicago, where the start and finish lines are in the parking lots of the football stadiums, had to be factored in, as did NASCAR races in Chicago, Charlotte, Phoenix and Kansas City. And three stadiums share with Major League Soccer teams — another element to plan around. The most unusual situation arises in California, where the Rams (the Coliseum at USC) and Chargers (the StubHub Center at Cal State-Dominguez Hills) play home games on college campuses, making Monday night and Thursday night games at home a no-no when classes are in session.

There almost certainly will be an extra dose of attention paid to this lineup, after the ratings dip that accompanied the presidential election last year. The politicking for marquee games among network executives is nothing new, but ESPN executive Burke Magnus said at the CAA World Congress of Sports this week that ESPN has been as engaged with the schedule makers as it has ever been, in hopes of swaying the choices for “Monday Night Football.”

There are only so many Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers, Giants and Packers games to go around, though. In the meantime, the league was able to accommodate two unusual requests:

1) The Bengals are celebrating their 50th anniversary season this year. To kick off the festivities, they get to open at home against division-rival Baltimore and they host the first “Thursday Night Football” game of the season against Houston.

2) It was brought to the attention of the scheduling department — perhaps pointedly — that of the last 13 times the Ravens have appeared on “Monday Night Football” in the last 10 years, 12 of those games were on the road. Voila! On Nov. 27, the Ravens will host the Texans on Monday night.

“Everybody is going to have to take a little bit of pain in the schedule,” North said. “Hopefully no team takes too much.”

With that, some observations on 2017:

1) The Kickoff Game …

… is not another Super Bowl rematch. Instead, it is the AFC West champion Chiefs against the Patriots on Sept. 7 in Foxborough. Why not the Falcons, who are also on the Patriots’ home slate this year? Last year, the NFL opted to open the season with Carolina at Denver, a rematch of the Super Bowl 50. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera made his displeasure known and he thought having to spend so much of the offseason revisiting a crushing loss colored the entire 2016 season. But the primary reason the Falcons are not in the opener is the league wanted to showcase the Falcons’ new stadium on Sunday night in Week 2, meaning they wouldn’t put the Falcons in prime time on NBC in consecutive weeks to start the season. (The Falcons visit the Patriots Oct. 22 instead.)

There was another team on the radar for the Patriots’ opener, though. It was the AFC South champion Houston Texans. And just like everybody else, the scheduling department was watching Tony Romo’s movements closely.

“Had Tony Romo signed with Houston, we might have taken a different look at Houston at New England,” North said.

Likewise, had Romo signed with the Broncos, the Cowboys at Broncos game, now slated for the late Sunday afternoon window of Week 2, might have been moved to prime time.

2) No jet lag

When the NFL added regular-season games in London to its schedule beginning in 2007, it offered the lure of a bye week immediately after the trip to assuage teams’ concerns about the toll of midseason, long-distance travel and multiple time-zone changes. But in 2016, the Indianapolis Colts declined the bye immediately after their game in London, electing to take it later in the season, when coaches — and players — often prefer it to refresh for the stretch run. When the Colts beat the Bears at home seven days after the London game, a trend might have been born. This season, the Dolphins, Ravens and Jaguars — three of the four teams that will play in London in the 9:30 a.m. ET slot (the Saints are the fourth) — elected to play a game the week after playing in London. The increased comfort level with some of the international games is a potentially important development as the NFL continues to look abroad for growth.

“If you are going to play in London in the early window, you get back to your home stadium by midnight on Sunday night,” North said. “To know you’re forced into Week 4 bye as opposed to, We’ll be home by midnight? Teams seem to have figured out how to handle London.”

3) Don’t unpack
One of the reasons this schedule was the winner was there is no Week 4 bye. That’s the good news. The bad: Eight teams will have three-game road trips, if you include the Dolphins, who play twice on the road before hosting what is technically a home game in London. There were only two such road trips in last season’s schedule, which is part of what made that one so attractive. Few things make teams more irate than the extended road trips. So, what happened? The ever-increasing complexity of the schedule is to blame.

“All these stadium things, then you layer in international travel, four London games and a Mexico game, that’s 10 teams playing international games, not just where are they the week of the international game, but where are they the week before and week after. We don’t look at the total number of three-game road trips. Technically, you could have 20 three-game road trips, as long as no team has more than one and each of the 20 was justifiable.”

Thankfully, there aren’t 20. But bon voyage to the Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers, Patriots, Bengals, Broncos and Dolphins.

4) Telling stretches

Trying to divine the strength of schedule now seems ridiculous, when we don’t even know some of the starting quarterbacks. But consider this: Both the Broncos and Chargers will play a total of eight games against 2016 playoff teams. That’s the most in the NFL and a rough slate for two teams that will be heading into 2017 with rookie head coaches and, in the case of the Chargers, a new home field. (The Chiefs also play eight games against playoff teams, but at least this isn’t Andy Reid’s first rodeo.) The Broncos and Chargers play each other in Denver on the first Monday night of the season.

After that, the Broncos, whose opponents had a .578 winning percentage (the toughest mark in the league), face one of the season’s most intriguing stretches: home versus the Giants Oct. 15, then at the Chargers, at the Chiefs on Monday night, at the Eagles on the short week and then home versus the Patriots.

For the Patriots, that game in Denver starts their own critical run: at Denver, at Oakland (in Mexico City), home versus Miami, at Buffalo, at Miami on Monday night and then at Pittsburgh on the short week.

Finally, if the Cowboys are to return to the playoffs, the pass defense that ranked 26th last season, better improve in a hurry. They face the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals and Packers in the first five weeks, have the Redskins, Chiefs, Falcons and Eagles in a row at midseason, and close with the Redskins, Giants, Raiders, Seahawks and Eagles.

5) Binge viewing

The schedule makers didn’t take offseason surgeries for Cam Newton or Andrew Luck into consideration. But we did. Here are a few games to circle on your calendar:

» Giants at Cowboys (Week 1): It’s the third straight year these rivals open against each other. Last year saw the debuts of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Giants’ revamped defense.

» Seahawks at Packers (Week 1): This is the fourth straight year they meet. Last year’s 38-10 Packers showcase was the signal that the Aaron Rodgers’ offense was back on track. Will Richard Sherman be with the Seahawks to try to get Green Bay off track again?

» Colts at Rams and Panthers at 49ers (Week 1): To what extent will offseason shoulder surgeries impact the start of the season for Andrew Luck and Cam Newton?

» Falcons at Patriots (Week 7): Just how much psychological damage did that Super Bowl collapse inflict anyway?

» Patriots at Raiders in Mexico City (Week 11): With Marshawn Lynch looming on the roster horizon for the Raiders, this game should provide a good measuring stick for how close the Raiders are to the top of the AFC mountain.

» Patriots at Steelers (Week 15): If this is the AFC Championship Game preview, nobody would be surprised.

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Bucs QB Jameis Winston raves about training with free agent Adrian Peterson

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TAMPA, Fla. — Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston found an unlikely training mate in former Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson this offseason. The two worked out together in Houston and Winston raved about Peterson on Monday when he was back in the Bucs facility.

“Being able to be in the presence of whom many consider to be one of the greatest backs, especially of this generation, my generation — to be able to learn [from] and see his work ethic, to see the way he works, man, you really know why he’s great,” Winston said.

“You know why he’s been able to play at a high level in this league for so long, which helps me, because I want to be great,” Winston said. “I want to be considered one of the best players in the league. To see that [after] 10 years, this man is still outworking everybody in his own facility, it’s amazing. It’s very eye-opening to me and motivating.”

Last year, Peterson opened a 35,000-square-foot gym called O Athletik, which features everything from free weights and machines to a steep incline hill, batting cages, an indoor soccer field and an MMA training area. The club is more of a fitness center than an athletic training center, although it caters to both.

Winston chose Houston to gather his receivers a few weeks ago because several of them live in the area. Mike Evans, Derel Walker, Josh Huff, DeSean Jackson, Freddie Martino and Bernard Reedy all joined him, as did his trainer, Tim Grover, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, and Peterson.

It wasn’t just about bringing the group together, though. It was about “getting them around greatness,” Winston said. “AP was able to work with us some. For them to be able to see what greatness is, it helps us, it helps build us, it helps motivate us.”

When asked if he’d like to play with Peterson, a free agent, Winston said, “Absolutely.”

“I don’t know of anyone that wouldn’t,” Winston said. “But that’s out of my league. I can only talk about what I learned from him and how he helped me this offseason.”

The Bucs have some question marks at the running back position due to the suspension of two-time Pro Bowler Doug Martin, who will miss the first three games of the 2017 season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Martin was at One Buc Place on Monday to begin the team’s offseason program, which he is eligible to participate in.

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Adrian Peterson leaves Saints visit without contract

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Adrian Peterson left New Orleans without a contract.

The running back met with the Saints this week and left Tuesday night without a deal, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

Rapoport added that the visit went well and the sides will continue to talk.

The 32-year-old Peterson seems like an ill fit in the Saints’ pass-happy offense. Yet the sides have a mutual interest in pairing. New Orleans is looking for a backup power runner behind Mark Ingram. Peterson is seeking to continue his career chasing a Super Bowl ring.

Taking a role in a backfield that already boasts Ingram would be a signal that no team was willing to hand Peterson a primary role coming off an injury-ravaged 2016 season.

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CB Desmond Trufant agrees to 5-year extension with Falcons

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The Atlanta Falcons have reached a five-year extension with cornerback Desmond Trufant, the team confirmed Saturday morning.

The extension is worth $69 million with approximately $42 million guaranteed, as first reported by The Huffington Post and confirmed by ESPN. No other contract details were immediately available.

Trufant expressed his gratitude in a tweet shortly after the deal was announced.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff said signing Trufant to an extension was the team’s top priority this spring. Trufant, the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft out of Washington, was going into the final year of his rookie contract and was due to make $8,026,000 in 2017 after the Falcons exercised the fifth-year option.

Trufant is among the league’s elite cornerbacks and now will be paid as one. His $42 million guaranteed would put him just below Washington’s Josh Norman ($50 million), Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($48 million) and Cleveland’s Joe Haden ($45.078 million) in terms of guaranteed money.

“We are really happy to be able to get this extension done,” Dimitroff said via statement. “Trufant has proven to be a valuable leader to our team and embodies every trait that Coach Quinn and I are looking for from players that are a part of our brotherhood. Trufant has improved each year, and we believe his best ball is still in front of him. We knew this extension was going to be a component to our offseason plan, and I am excited with the way we have been able to execute our entire plan as we have built our roster.”

The Falcons previously rewarded No. 2 cornerback Robert Alford with a four-year, $38 million extension that included $21 million guaranteed.

Trufant is known for shutting down one side of the field and is one of the team’s best defenders when healthy. Last season he played in nine games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury that required surgery. Falcons coach Dan Quinn recently said Trufant would be sidelined for organized team activities but should be ready to go for training camp.

Trufant has 168 tackles, 48 passes defensed, seven interceptions and three sacks through four seasons.

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