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Where Does The Jennings Acquisition Rank?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 27, 2013 – 4:48 pm

The NFL began a new League Year on March 12, and the news came fast and furious once teams were able to do business. Long-rumored trades become official, core players were re-signed, coveted free agents made big-money decisions and teams manipulated their rosters to put themselves in optimum salary cap position.

Through it all, the Vikings were significant players during the process. They re-signed RT Phil Loadholt and several other of their own free agents, they swapped WR Percy Harvin for three draft choices (including a 1st-rounder this year) and they did what they had to do to clear room under the salary cap.

The move that made the most noise on a national level, though, was the signing of WR Greg Jennings.

So just where does the Jennings signing rank in terms of relevance across the NFL? Bucky Brooks of NFL.com has considered all the roster shuffling and has compiled a list of the 10 most significant. It’s worth a quick read.

Let us know what you think of Brooks’ list and of his opinion regarding the Jennings acquisition by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry…

greg


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Vikings Free Agency: What’s Happened? What’s Next?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 18, 2013 – 5:18 am

Rick Spielman may prefer to and excel at building his team through the draft. But the Vikings GM has illustrated this year that he also views free agency as an important vehicle to improving his roster. We’re not even a week into the New League Year, and the Vikings have already been one of the NFL’s most active teams when it comes to shuffling the roster and making improvements.

Here’s a quick look at what the Vikings have done so far, and what might be next…

Got Jennings? Vikings do
The Vikings finished the 2012 regular season with the 31st-ranked passing offense, so during the offseason you can be sure that adding talented pass-catchers will be atop the priority list. To that end, the Vikings have already taken a huge step forward by signing WR Greg Jennings. After being a thorn in the Vikings side for the past 7 seasons, Jennings will now be a helping hand to Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave and QB Christian Ponder. The signing of Jennings was met with wild excitement from a Vikings fan base that has watched the former Packers pass-catcher torch them for 63 receptions and 10 TDs in 15 games vs. the Purple.

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Loadholt, other UFAs re-signed
Spielman is asked every year what his priority will be in free agency. And every year he responds by saying that re-signing his own free agents is atop his wish list. Early in this year’s free agency, Spielman attacked that wish list. The focal point of that effort was re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, and the Vikings got the job done. Aside from Loadholt, the Vikings were also able to reach agreements with 5 of their other 6 unrestricted free agents (UFAs), including: OL Joe Berger, Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, S Jamarca Sanford and WR Jerome Simpson.

Harvin traded
In what may go down as one of this year’s more notable moves across the NFL, the Vikings traded WR Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, and for doing so received three draft picks – a 1st-rounder (#25) and 7th-rounder this year, and a 3rd-rounder next year. The trade gives the Vikings 11 selections in this year’s draft, including 6 in the first 4 rounds. If the Vikings use both 1st-rounders next month, it will mark the second consecutive year they’ll net a pair of 1st-round picks in a draft. That’s a good way to improve the talent level on your roster.

Winfield cut
In a move that is a great illustration of the type of difficult decisions NFL franchises have to make each year, the Vikings released CB Antoine Winfield. At first blush it seems like a startling move, but given Winfield’s salary and given some of the team’s other priorities, it was a decision that was in the best interests of the franchise. It may have set the stage for the Loadholt re-signing and/or the Vikings ability to go out and get Jennings to help the passing game. Spielman did say that the team is open to Winfield returning at some point this offseason.

Calling for backup – Cassel signed
On the same day the Vikings made a big splash in signing Jennings, they also secured another QB to add to the mix behind starter Christian Ponder. The Kansas City Chiefs released Matt Cassel, and the Vikings immediately swooped in to pick him up. Cassel is an experienced passer in the NFL (62 starts) who was Tom Brady’s backup in New England when the Patriots went 16-0 and advanced to the Super Bowl in 2007. Also, when asked to play, Cassel has responded. He guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season and he was also a Pro Bowler as the Chiefs starter in 2010, passing for 27 TDs and authoring a passer rating of 93.0.

Misc.
In other developments, the Vikings tendered restricted free agent (RFA) CB AJ Jefferson, so he is set to return for 2013. WR Michael Jenkins was cut and earlier in February the Vikings signed former CFL standout CB Roderick Williams.

What’s next?
– The only UFA the Vikings weren’t able to re-sign was middle LB Jasper Brinkley, who has subsequently signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings could look to free agency to fill that spot, they could wait until the draft to find a middle LB, they could rely on Audie Cole to win that job, or they could enact one or more of those possibilities in combination.
— Looking at the roster right now compared to the roster at this time of the year in 2012, the Vikings are at or above capacity at most spots on the roster. There are two exceptions: offensive tackle and running back. Last year at this time, the Vikings had 6 running backs and right now they have 5. Last year at this time the Vikings had 5 offensive tackles and this year they have 4. Of course the Vikings could wait until the draft to fill the voids in each spot, they could find a free agent on the open market, or they could do both.


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Who’s In, Who’s Out? Vikings Busy On First Day Of League Year

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 13, 2013 – 5:42 am

The first day of the New League Year did not disappoint. It was a hectic day full of signings, reports of signings, cuts, trades and roster shuffling. The Vikings were in on the mix for much of it. Here’s a rundown of what the Vikings accomplished on Tuesday, with another busy day possibly in store for the organization on Wednesday…

– The Percy Harvin trade was finalized. After 4 seasons of receptions, returns and runs for the Vikings, Harvin was shipped to Seattle in exchange for a 1st-round pick and a 7th-round pick in April’s draft plus a 3rd-round pick in the 2013 NFL. That’s a nice haul for the Vikings, who now have 11 selections in this year’s draft and will have a pair of 1st-round picks in back-to-back seasons (Matt Kalil-Harrison Smith in 2012, #23 and #25 overall in 2013).

– Phil Loadholt re-signed with the Vikings and is looking to “finish what we started in Minnesota.” Securing Loadholt allows the Vikings to carry continuity along the offensive line into the 2013 season, as all 5 starters from last year will return in 2013. The average age of the 5 starters is just 25.8 years old.

– While investing in youth by securing three more draft choices and re-signing Loadholt, the Vikings parted (for now) with 15-year veteran CB Antoine Winfield. It was a hard decision, said Vikings GM Rick Spielman, but one the team made with the best interest of the team in mind. Spielman did not rule out a return for Winfield to the roster.

– Spielman was asked about a report that the team and TE John Carlson restructured the contract they agreed to a year ago, but the Vikings GM declined to get into specifics of the restructurings.

– Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, special teams ace and safety Jamarca Sanford, and WR Jerome Simpson all used Twitter to announce that they’ve reached deals to remain with the Vikings. Reports also surfaced on Tuesday that OL Joe Berger re-signed with the Vikings. No official word yet from the club, but this is good news given how much of a priority Spielman and the Vikings front office put on re-signing their own free agents.

– Spielman described the Vikings as being “in good shape” from a salary cap standpoint even after reportedly re-signing 6 of their own free agents, including what figures to be a significant multi-year deal for the road-grading Loadholt. Great work by the Vikings front office.

– Agree with him or disagree (I agree with him), Spielman is steadfast in his opinion of how to best build a roster that can sustain long-term success – through the draft and by retention of core players. Free agency has a place, no question, but it’s a limited place. This quote from Spielman during his press conference on Tuesday sums up the philosophy well: “Well we think we’re going to compete next year, there’s no doubt about that because we were a playoff team last year. By keeping your own and continuing to build through the draft and the success we’ve had the last couple of years with this draft and feel very strong about this draft class coming up, that that’s the approach and philosophy that we believed in and it’s showing that we are having success with that philosophy.”


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Loadholt Looking To “Finish What We Started” In Minnesota

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 12, 2013 – 6:36 pm

About this time in 2009, there was question as to where Phil Loadholt would settle in the NFL. In what would he be selected? And what position would he play? Would he use that massive arm span to corral the League’s best pass rushers as a left tackle or would he use his size and strength to maul defenders in the run game as a right tackle?

Eventually, all of those questions were answered, and they were answered by the Vikings when they selected Loadholt in the 2nd round. Loadholt had 4 productive seasons for the Vikings while playing under his rookie contract, and he proved his worth to the point that the Vikings locked him up for multiple more years on Tuesday, the opening day of the 2013 League Year.

Now, there’s no question where Loadholt is settling. Minnesota.

“I love being in Minnesota, love the community, and my family feels really at home,” Loadholt said. “It’s been great settling in Minnesota and calling it home. I was drafted here, and I wanted to come back and finish what we started here. I have a good feeling about where things are going with this team. We’ve just got to continue to build on what we’ve got and keep improving.”

A combination of ability, size and age made Loadholt an attractive option for teams looking to beef up their offensive line. The Vikings valued the 6-8, 343-pound road-grading run blocker more than anyone else, though. With Loadholt now retained as the team’s starting right tackle, the Vikings have invested heavily and wisely in their offensive line. Left tackle Matt Kalil, a 1st-round pick just a year ago and already a Pro Bowler, bookends the line with Loadholt. John Sullivan, who signed a contract extension in December of 2011, anchors the line and has emerged as one of the top centers in the NFL. At right guard the Vikings have developed 2011 sixth-round pick Brandon Fusco into a solid player and Charlie Johnson slid inside to left guard once the team selected Kalil fourth overall in 2012.

“It was important to keep the consistency we have on the line,” Loadholt said. “The more we keep working together the better we will be as a group. If we continue to stay healthy and work hard we can reach our goals.”

Of course having Adrian Peterson to block for doesn’t hurt, either.

“Having the best running back in the league makes blocking a lot more fun,” Loadholt said of his fellow Oklahoma Sooner. “Adrian makes everyone’s job easier and knowing what he can do makes you want to work even harder.”


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Free Or Not To Be Free? A List Of Vikings Free Agents

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 11, 2013 – 5:31 am

In 2012 the Vikings notched the greatest single-season win improvement in franchise history, moving from 3 wins in 2011 to 10 wins this past season. This offseason the team will look to further improve the roster through the retension and acquisition of free agents and the development of another strong draft class.

The first step in that process has already begun, as the Vikings front office is in the process of evaluating its own class of free agents as well as the large group of players scheduled to become free agents on Tuesday, the first day of the new League Year. Before a team delves into the free agent market, it must first address the status of its own free agents. Will the Vikings re-sign most of their free agents? We don’t know that yet. But we do know which Vikings players are scheduled to become free agents.

Below is a list of the Vikings restricted free agents (RFAs) and unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Also, click here to check out the vikings.com 2013 Free Agent Glossary.

Restricted Free Agents
CB AJ Jefferson

Unrestricted Free Agents
WR Devin Aromashodu
OL Joe Berger
LB Jasper Brinkley
FB Jerome Felton
LB Erin Henderson
RT Phil Loadholt
LB Marvin Mitchell
S Jamarca Sanford
OL Geoff Schwartz
WR Jerome Simpson


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Monday Morning Mailbag Extra: Free Agency Primer

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 6, 2013 – 7:54 am

While putting together a few questions and answers for next week’s Monday Morning Mailbag, I came across a good question that required a thorough answer. The answer became complicated enough that I thought it would be too long-winded for the Mailbag. So, I thought we could make a blog entry out of it and let the readers take it from there.

Take a look at the question and my answer. Then be sure to leave your thoughts on the matter by utilizing the comments section below the blog entry.

I know the Vikings new direction is to draft players instead of pick them up from free agency. I agree wholeheartedly with their direction. However, what type of contract deal does Mike Wallace want? What are the chances of the Vikings picking him up? Are there any free agents that you would personally like the Vikings to go after?
— Derek P.
Pearl Harbor, HI

Building the team through the draft as opposed to free agency is not a new direction for the Vikings. This has been GM Rick Spielman’s philosophy during his tenure in Minnesota. It may feel new to some fans because they are starting to see the wisdom in that philosophy given the Vikings recent success in the draft, but it’s nothing new for veteran NFL GMs.

I’m not sure what kind of contract Wallace will demand once free agency opens on Tuesday, but my sense is his camp will be seeking top-end type of money – something in the neighborhood of what Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson are making. Whether that’s what he deserves or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is what the market bears. That’s why free agency can be dangerous, and that’s why teams prefer to use the draft as the primary tool to build their roster. In free agency, you’re not paying players based on their ability to perform. Rather, you’re paying them based on supply and demand. Those are two entirely different propositions.

The Vikings are a run-oriented team that features the NFL’s best running back and one of the League’s top run-blocking offensive lines. As such, it’s fair to wonder whether it makes sense then for the Vikings to invest such a large amount of money in a single receiver. If you’re a team that can run the ball effectively up to 30-35+ times per game, are you also a team that wants to pay a free agent wide receiver upwards of $15 million a season? I’m not saying the answer is yes or no in the Vikings particular case, I’m just suggesting it’s a question every team must ask itself when it comes to drawing up a plan for free agency.

As for free agents I’d like to see the team pursue, I don’t have anyone in particular in mind. Of course it’d be great to add a receiver the caliber of Wallace or Greg Jennings. But to me, the Vikings had a good plan in free agency last season. Spielman and Co. waited for the high-priced free agents to fly off the shelf early in free agency, and then once the second and third wave of free agency came along the Vikings picked up a few. While the additions of tight end John Carlson and Jerome Simpson didn’t work out as planned, the book on both of their Vikings tenures may not be over yet. Also, the signing of fullback Jerome Felton was brilliant. At the time, the Felton signing was an under-the-radar move that didn’t yield much more than a sentence or two buried at the bottom of the lead story. In the end, though, it turned out to be one of the better offseason additions and it resulted in a Pro Bowl berth for Felton following the best season of Adrian Peterson’s career.

Long story longer, the key to free agency is not making the biggest splash or identifying the best players at each position and then pursuing them. The key to free agency is identifying and signing players who fit the scheme and can be obtained with reasonable salaries. That leaves cap space and cash for the best kind of free agent signing – the re-signing of your own free agents whom you know fit with your team, which in the Vikings case could be players such as right tackle Phil Loadholt, safety Jamarca Sanford and even a future free agents such as Everson Griffen.


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Period For Teams To Designate Franchise Players Begins Monday

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 18, 2013 – 7:47 am

Are you ready for some football? No, not games. The beauty of the NFL, though, is that there really is no offseason. Even when games aren’t being played, NFL news dominates the sports cycle. From free agency to the Combine to the draft to minicamps and everything in between, the news never ends in the NFL.

Monday is yet another landmark in the NFL offseason because it marks the beginning of the period for teams to designate one of their free agents as a franchise player by placing the franchise tag on them. Language in the Collective Bargaining Agreements states that “The period for Clubs to designate Franchise Players will begin on the twenty-second day preceding the first day of the new League Year and will end at 4:00 p.m. New York time on the eighth day preceding the first day of the new League Year.” With the new League Year set to commence on March 12, Monday marks the 22nd day before March 12. And the 2-week designation period will expire on March 4, which is obviously 8 days before March 12 (start of the new League Year).

Anyway, it’s franchise tag time. Last year, a record number of players were tagged by their teams – 21. The Vikings were one of the 11 teams that did not use the franchise tag a year ago. Will they use it this year? We don’t know, and only time will tell. If the Vikings do use the franchise tag, who would they use it on? We don’t know that yet, either, but many would agree the most valuable free agent on the Vikings roster is RT Phil Loadholt. As we’ve written in this space previously, re-signing Loadholt is an important offseason priority for the Vikings.

For more on the franchise tag and which teams may use it, check out this piece written by NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal.


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Vikings Aim To Keep RT Loadholt, OL Continuity

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 11, 2013 – 7:49 am

There’s been much buzz in recent days regarding the Vikings 1st-round draft pick from 2009 – Percy Harvin. While that appears to be a topic that will remain relevant for a time, the Vikings will also face a decision on their 2nd-round pick from the same draft – RT Phil Loadholt.

The 6-8, 343-pound road-grating run blocker and Christian Ponder protector is not under contract for next season and could hit the unrestricted free agent market if he doesn’t agree to a new deal with the Vikings before the launch of the new League year (mid-March). Re-signing Loadholt should be a big priority for the Vikings as they come off a season in which they started the same five offensive linemen for all 16 games, reduced their sacks allowed total from 49 to 32 and tied a team record for rushing yards. Loadholt was a big part – literally and figuratively – of that effort, and he’s a player the Vikings would be fortunate to retain going forward.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, while discussing this topic and many more last week with Voice of the Vikings Radio Network Paul Allen and Friday co-host Paul Charchian, seemed to agree.

“Phil Loadholt is a good football player for us,” Spielman said. “Our offensive line had a lot of wholesale changes up front, getting Matt Kalil, moving Charlie (Johnson) inside to left guard, the emergence of (John) Sullivan, who I think is a Pro Bowl center, the development of Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt. Our objective is to hopefully keep all those guys together for the next three, four, five years.

“Continuity is a huge part of it on the offensive line because those guys have to work as one unit and they have to know each other inside and out. They work together on combination blocks, on picking up stunts and twists when they’re in pass pro passing off. I think continuity is a big key to that. We’d love to keep Phil Loadholt, so we’ll try to do everything we can to keep Phil Loadholt but we also have a lot of guys we’d like to keep.”


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6 Vikings-Packers Storylines To Watch

Posted by Mike Wobschall on January 2, 2013 – 7:15 am

Another great chapter in the Vikings-Packers border battle will unfold this weekend at Lambeau Field, as the two franchises meet in the Wild Card round of the 2012 NFL playoffs. This is a matchup that sells itself, but while we count down the hours until these teams square-off once again, let’s go over 6 of the Vikings-Packers storylines we’ll be watching this week…

1. Border Battle Moves To The Postseason
The third meeting in five weeks between border rivals Minnesota and Green Bay will take place in the postseason. Remarkably, this is only the second time these two clubs have met in the postseason, with the Vikings winning the first matchup 31-17 as underdogs at Lambeau Field. Saturday night’s game marks the third time in five weeks the Vikings and Packers will square off, and it also marks the 27th playoff season and 46th playoff game in Vikings history.

2. Does Green Bay Have An Answer For Adrian Peterson?
Adrian Peterson had a historic season in 2012, and his performances against the Packers were a significant reason why. Peterson rushed for 409 yards and 2 TDs in 2 games against Green Bay, averaging 7.4 yards per carry on 55 attempts and putting up huge totals of 210 yards at Lambeau Field in Week 13 and 199 yards on a career-high 34 carries in Week 17. Green Bay has proven they can yield a huge number of rushing yards to Peterson and still win – they defeated the Vikings in Week 13 – but you can be sure Green Bay would rather not sweat it out like that. Can the Packers come up with an answer for Peterson? It’s a fun subplot to watch.

3. Can Vikings Contain Aaron Rodgers, Packers Passing Game?
In similar fashion to how Peterson gives the Packers trouble, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers has dominated the Vikings. In 2012, Rodgers completed 73.3% of his passes against the Vikings for an average of 325.5 yards per game and a TD-INT ratio of 5-1. The Vikings defense did a great job against Rodgers and Co. in the 1st quarter of last week’s game, forcing them to punt three times in three possessions. But after that, Rodgers caught fire and led the Packers to 4 TDs and 2 FGs in the Packers final 8 series. It’s hard to expect the Vikings defense to play for the whole game this Saturday the way they played in the 1st quarter on Sunday, but there has to be some kind of balance the Vikings can strike between the two for the duration of Saturday night’s game that can hold the Packers offense at bay.

4. Winfield’s Status Remains Uncertain
A big part of the Vikings effort to slow down the Packers passing game is the presence of CB Antoine Winfield. Unfortunately, whether or not Winfield will be able to play this weekend is a big question mark. Winfield injured his hand in the Vikings Week 16 win at Houston. He was able to start last week’s game against Green Bay, but was unable to finish the game because of the hand injury. Winfield was held out of practice on Tuesday, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said his top CB’s status would be a day-to-day situation all week.

5. Plenty Of Names To Watch On This Week’s Injury Report
Outside of Winfield, there are plenty of names to watch on this week’s injury report – for both teams. The Vikings will monitor shoulder injuries for a pair of starters – DE Brian Robison and S Harrison Smith. Special teams standout Tyrone McKenzie also has a shoulder injury. Peterson has been dealing with an abdomen injury, both WR Jerome Simpson and C John Sullivan were shaken up for a moment during last week’s game, and RT Phil Loadholt has been listed with a knee injury in recent weeks.

For the Packers, there’s plenty of good news on the injury front. WR Randall Cobb is expected to return, which could give Rodgers his full complement of receivers because Greg Jennings is healthy and Jordy Nelson is expected to play. Future Hall of Fame DB Charles Woodson has been cleared for a return to practice from a broken collarbone, LB Clay Matthews left but returned to the last week’s game and will play on Saturday and run-stopper CJ Wilson appears to have come out of last week’s game okay.

6. Freezing Forecast Set For Saturday Night
The weather.com forecast for Green Bay on Saturday shows a high of 26 degrees and a low of 15 degrees for the day, with snow possible and winds predicted to come from the west at 15 mph. It’s not the coldest we’ve seen Lambeau Field, but it’s the coldest game of the season for the Vikings and the elements will definitely be a factor in the game.


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Packers Injury Report: CB Woodson Ruled Out, But DL Getting Healthier

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 27, 2012 – 8:00 am

Future Hall of Fame CB Charles Woodson did not play in the first Vikings-Packers matchup of the season because of a broken collarbone suffered against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7. And he won’t play in the second Vikings-Packers matchup, either, because of the injury.

Sunday will mark the 9th game Woodson has missed because of the injury. The Packers were hopeful that Woodson would make his return this week for the season finale, hoping the game would serve as a tune-up for the team’s postseason run.

“We were hopeful this was going to be the game,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “This is his fourth week now going through practice. I know he’s disappointed. This is a game he’d really like to play in.”

Elsewhere, though, Green Bay is getting healthier. That is especially the case along the defensive line, where starter CJ Wilson returned to practice after missing the past 4 games and rookie DE Jerel Worthy also returned to work after missing last week’s game. Wilson is one of Green Bay’s top run stoppers, and his absence from the first border battle was a plus for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings as they ran up and down Lambeau Field. Worthy is a high-performing member of the DL rotation and one of several contributors from the Packers 2012 draft class.

Green Bay has 13 players listed on its injury report. Listed as out was Woodson. Listed as non-participants in practice were K Mason Crosby, G Josh Sitton and RB James Starks. Listed as limited participants in practice were WR Randall Cobb, G Evan Dietrich-Smith, CB Davon House, Wilson, Worthy and C Jeff Saturday. Full participants were TE Tom Crabtree, RB Alex Green and WR Jordy Nelson.

For the Vikings, DE Jared Allen, RB Adrian Peterson and CB Antoine Winfield did not practice. DE Brian Robison was limited, and P Chris Kluwe, RT Phil Loadholt and CB Marcus Sherels were full participants.


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