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Falcons Offseason News

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'Drake of football?' Lil Wayne has big plans for Falcons rookie Duke Riley | 9:00 AM ET


Started from the bottom now we're here

The familiar lyrics from Drake's hit song might have echoed through the mind of rap icon Lil Wayne while he assessed Duke Riley's profile.

The rapper was in search of a marketable athlete to jump-start Young Money APAA Sports, which merged with Lil Wayne's successful Young Money Entertainment record label. According to the company's website, Young Money APAA Sports' main areas of expertise and execution are contract negotiations, marketing opportunities and client concierge services.

It helped that Riley, the Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker and third-round draft pick from LSU, is from the New Orleans area where Lil Wayne -- born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. -- grew up and ascended to fame. But the hometown tie wasn't the only reason the two connected.

Lil Wayne, an avid football fan, knows talent when he sees it. He also knows what it's like to overcome great odds growing up in a rugged environment.

"Duke's drive to be the best, his work ethic, charisma and personality reminded me of an artist I signed on the music side of Young Money. The world knows that music artist as Drake," the five-time Grammy winner told ESPN. "Just as I saw a superstar in Drake from the beginning, I see the same for Duke Riley."

Such a strong statement creates lofty expectations for Riley, a player drafted to bring more speed and playmaking ability to an ascending Falcons defense. But he's still a rookie who has yet to play in an NFL game or even make it through an entire training camp.

Riley was humbled to be the first player to sign with Young Money, regardless of the pressure it puts on him to produce.

"I know it kind of sounds corny, but Lil Wayne said I'm the Drake of football. ... He basically said I'm their first [sports] guy that's going to go big," Riley said. "They know what type of person I am. They know I put in the work. They know I came out of nowhere and I came from nothing to be where I'm at right now. And I'm not even close to where I'm going to be. Young Money, they're bringing me in as family."

Jacksonville Jaguars rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Dallas Cowboys rookie defensive end Lewis Neal, along with NBA rookie guard Frank Mason III of the Sacramento Kings, were among those to follow Riley and become the first group of athletes to sign deals with Young Money.

Riley's new teammates were well aware of his unique tie to Lil Wayne even before he officially became a Falcon.

"When I took my [pre-draft] visit, they were like, 'You're rolling with Wayne,'" Riley said. "They already knew me because of that. Everyone is a fan of Wayne, especially if you like rap music."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn, also a rap fan, wasn't initially aware of the connection. He is now.

"I wish I got to be part of that crew," Quinn said with a smile. "I do like Lil Wayne."

A video of Riley's unusual workout routine earned him his first taste of the national spotlight as a pro. His affiliation with Lil Wayne is sure to garner even more attention, particularly if he performs at a high level on a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

Here's the story behind how the football/hip-hop partnership was formed and what it means for Riley moving forward.

Working with a 'living legend'

Lil Wayne and manager Cortez Bryant, a marketing guru, attended LSU-Alabama game in Baton Rouge last November. It was a hard-fought effort by Riley and the 13th-ranked Tigers, but the top-ranked Crimson Tide emerged with a 10-0 win.

After the game, Riley received a FaceTime call from Lil Wayne and fellow Young Money rapper Mack Maine.

"They told me they were starting this football agency and they wanted me to be a part of it," Riley said. "And they wanted to meet with me, but I was meeting with a lot of people at that time."

Riley eventually agreed to meet with Lil Wayne and his business partners after the college football season concluded. The meeting took place in Miami, home of the $11.6 million mansion Lil Wayne purchased and, reportedly, recently sold that included his recording studio and private skate park.

"You see like a living legend standing right in front of you," Riley said of his face-to-face with Lil Wayne. "It was kind of crazy at first. But like as soon as I walked in, he came up to me and had a full conversation. It's so crazy to know how much Wayne actually knows about football. He knows more players in the NFL than I do. He knows the routes. He knows the coverages. He knows all that."

As if teaming up with one of his all-time favorite rappers wasn't enough, Riley was totally sold when Lil Wayne and the Young Money contingent took an interest in Riley's 1-year-old son, Elijah.

"They were the last group I met with, and out of everyone I met they were the first ones to bring up my son throughout the interview," Riley said. "That was so huge to me because I'm a family guy, and I know they're all about family. I just wanted to be a part of that.

"A lot of people were like, 'Man, you don't want to do that,' just because they thought [signing with Young Money] was all about the music. There's so much more. They do so much for me."

Riley actually signed Vincent Taylor of Elite Loyalty as his contract agent and maintains a close daily bond with Taylor. Young Money helped set up Riley's pre-draft training in Fort Worth, Texas. The training helped him drop a couple tenths of a second off his 40 time to turn in a 4.58 at the NFL combine, one of the fastest times among linebackers. Then Riley made his NFL dreams reality as the draft's 75th overall pick.

Once Riley was drafted by the Falcons, the marketing plan started to take shape.

"If he would have been picked in the first round early, I probably could have done more on the marketing side," said Bryant, who previously secured national commercials for Lil Wayne with Samsung and Nicki Minaj with MAC Cosmetics. "But now, I told Duke it's going to be an effort where we're going to work together. I told him the better he does, the easier it will be for me to sell the opportunities."

Some of the first publicity Riley received with Young Money was a signing party hosted by Lil Wayne in May at an Atlanta nightclub. Riley, who inked a four-year, $3.518 million contract ($889,752 guaranteed) with the Falcons, made money off the appearance as well.

"Basically you're getting the best of both worlds," Riley said. "It's kind of like I get to live a rapper's lifestyle. If Wayne's going to perform somewhere and there's an after party, I can be at the after party. It's kind of crazy because everyone who is a fan of Wayne, they're a fan of me, too, because I'm part of Young Money."

'Makings of a real leader'

Riley is originally from Buras, Louisiana, some 60 miles south of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina forced his entire family to relocate.

"We had like 17 to 20 feet of water and when I went home, it was just a slab of concrete," Riley said. "But honestly, Katrina was like the worst and best of things that ever happened to me. I say worst because I lost a lot of friends and I got separated from my family.

"But where I came from, when I was younger, I never saw myself in this position because everyone in my family --- I'm from the swamps -- so basically they either worked offshore in the oil field [where Riley's father worked], they're fishermen or shrimpers, or they sell drugs. It was just those three options, so it was good for me to get away from that area."

Riley and his family finally settled in Belle Chasse, 10 miles south of New Orleans. He went to John Curtis High School and left there as a four-star recruit. He didn't start at LSU until his senior season while playing behind future Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander and his new Falcons teammate, Deion Jones.

"We saw how Duke's trajectory came in just a couple of years," Bryant said. "From high school to LSU, just how he moved up. What better story than to start with someone who is kind of homegrown, and then get behind him and help him fulfill his dream?"

Now Riley has a new home in Atlanta with the Falcons and a new foundation with Young Money. There is a chance Lil Wayne will attend the first regular-season game at the Falcons' new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's Sept. 17, a Sunday night matchup against Green Bay.

"Yes, Wayne is a huge Packers fan," Riley said. "Brett Favre is my favorite player because I used to play quarterback, and Wayne once posted a picture of himself performing in a Favre jersey. But Wayne is definitely a Falcons fan now. I already told him, 'I'm going to get you a jersey.’ I'm pretty sure he might make that game."

Time will tell if Riley will be in the starting lineup by then. Quinn envisions Riley as part of the base defense alongside Jones and De'Vondre Campbell, a pair of second-year players. Riley also could push to remain on the field with Jones in the nickel package.

"He's got very good football instincts," Quinn said of Riley. "The way he's going for it with the early meetings, he wants to do extra to get [it] right. And I think we've seen some real leadership qualities there. I think he's got the makings to be a real leader."

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Falcons' Dan Quinn hopes Raheem Morris will be NFL head coach again


Vaughn McClure  


If anything were to cause Dan Quinn to be away from his team for a period of time during the season, the Atlanta Falcons coach wouldn’t be the least bit concerned about business operating as usual.

Quinn knows he has someone more than capable of stepping in and running the team in his place. That someone is assistant head coach Raheem Morris, whom Quinn moved over from defense to oversee the wide receivers. Quinn gave Morris the title of offensive pass game coordinator going into this season in order to assist new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

Quinn and Morris have been close for years, dating back to the days when Quinn was a young assistant coach at Hofstra University and Morris was a player on the team. But it was Morris who became an NFL head coach first, when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three seasons.

Quinn is certain Morris will be an NFL head coach again some day.

"I do think so,” Quinn said, "and I hope that it’s sooner than later. He’s really equipped to do that. So when his chance comes, that’s what I hope his next step is.”

Out of respect for Quinn and the Falcons' organization, Morris politely declined to join in any talk related to becoming a head coach again. He remains solely focused on ensuring that All-Pro Julio Jones and the rest of the receivers maintain a high level of play alongside reigning MVP Matt Ryan and the high-octane offense.

Remember, Morris came to the Falcons as the defensive pass game coordinator, a position that emphasized improving the back end of the defense. After one season -- and following the departure of wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie to Tennessee -- he was switched to the offensive side of the ball. There, he developed a strong bond with former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, currently a first-time head coach with the San Francisco 49ers.

If anybody can appreciate the head-coaching qualities Morris possesses, it would be Shanahan.

"Raheem has always been a great defensive coach,” Shanahan told ESPN earlier this week. "And now, to have the experience on offense the past two years, puts him at the top of the tier. He has more energy than any coach I’ve ever been around, and he can connect with any type of player or coach. He’s more than ready to be a head coach again.”

Morris’ first stint as a head coach didn’t go quite as well as he had envisioned. He carried influences from close friend Mike Tomlin, Jon and Jay Gruden, the late Joe Gardi, and Shanahan’s father, Mike, into his initial coaching stint with the Buccaneers. He was also named the league's youngest coach at age 32 after taking over for Jon Gruden in 2009. Morris, who served as the Bucs' defensive backs coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator, went 3-13 in his first season as head coach. He then enjoyed a rather successful second season and tallied 10 wins, narrowly missing the playoffs. But things plummeted from there: The Bucs went 4-12 in 2011, leading to Morris' firing after posting a 17-31 overall record.

Recent ESPN analyst Mark Dominik, the general manager in Tampa Bay alongside Morris, explained what went wrong from his vantage point.

"The one thing looking back is we gutted the team way too hard, and it was almost an impossible job," Dominik said. "It was like you were an expansion franchise starting over. Now, we had some players. I don’t want to be disrespectful. But it was tough. Obviously, with the quarterback situation, Josh Freeman had talent and then didn’t live up to everything off the field. And that can happen in the league."

Even during the bad times, Dominik saw the good in Morris.

"Raheem, to me, has an amazing presence with players," Dominik said. "He’s able to relate with them, but also can be tough and hard on them. I think it was unique at the time because I think he was [32]. I was 37. It was both our first shot to try and go in and do that. But looking back at it, I see now that Raheem is probably even in better position now because he’s been through it once. He’s been around a lot of great people now. And he just has 'it.'

"If you’ve met him and if you’ve ever had a chance to sit down and talk to him, you can understand why he has a presence to him. I’d be shocked if Raheem doesn’t get a shot soon, and he should. I have nothing but positive things to say about Raheem Morris. And if anybody ever called me, I’d give him a high recommendation because I know where I think he’s headed as a head coach.”

Morris has moved well beyond his failures in Tampa. Watch him on a daily basis now and you’ll see infectious energy, as well as constant interaction with personnel on both sides of the ball. He’ll engage in lighthearted trash talk with the players, particularly opinionated wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. He understands when someone needs a pat on the back or a kick in the butt.

"His attention to detail ... he’s a players’ coach,” receiver Taylor Gabriel said. "Man, you want to go there and make plays just because of the work he puts in throughout the week. And he knows how to shape and mold his players to be the best that they can, week in and week out.

"He helped me mentally get ready throughout the week with film study of DBs, the tendencies and the things that I could take advantage of them. He’s literally the first at the facility and the last to leave. I love the guy.”

Said free safety Ricardo Allen: "I just think Raheem would be a great head coach. He’s one of those coaches that tells you the truth any time you need to hear it. He’s not a coach that sugarcoats anything. He’s been on offense, he’s been on defense, and he’s great at both. I think the sky is the limit for him. He can do anything he puts his mind to.”

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Falcons’ Schweitzer “most scrutinized player in training camp” per Bleacher Report


Maghen Moore

ajc | 3:09 p.m Monday, July 24, 2017Sports


Bleacher Report picked a player on each NFL team it believes is the most scrutinized player going into training camp. Well, according to them, the Atlanta Falcons most scrutinized player is offensive guard Wes Schweitzer.


Schweitzer was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons. Schweitzer is expected to compete for Chris Chester’s position: right guard.


To read the full list of the 32 players, visit Bleacher Report’s website.

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©2017 Cox Media Group

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Atlanta thrashers: Falcons D can cure Super hangover (

The article title made me a little sad :(


This is Quinn's third season at the helm of a Falcons franchise that gave him rare final say over his 53-man roster. While general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli deserve huge credit for finding the right pieces, this defense is Quinn's vision come to life. Nearly every key piece of the front seven was acquired since Quinn's arrival, with more than half the defensive starters from the last three drafts.

Middle linebacker Deion Jones is the key. The 2016 second-round pick is the updated model of the Tampa-2 MLB position that Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher helped make famous. Jones shows a remarkable ability to cover deep down the field when necessary, checking opponents from Doug Baldwin to Dion Lewis, from Julian Edelman to Antonio Gates. Jones and fellow 2016 draft pick De'Vondre Campbell have a chance to grow up together as a linebacker duo, like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright did in Seattle under Quinn, their shared understanding growing with every snap.


The defense as a whole could be viewed as a backup plan. The unit's talent and depth will provide a safety net to the Super Bowl hangover or understandable regression to the mean from the high-flying offense. The Falcons managed to win the NFC South and earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a defense that ranked 27th in defensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. That's a low bar to clear.

Atlanta's defense only needs to upgrade to average in order to provide a huge boost. And it can be so much better than average. For Dan Quinn, Deion Jones and the entire Atlanta defensive unit, last season's Super Bowl appearance was ahead of schedule. Now is their time.


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41 minutes ago, Stray Dog THA GAWD said:

Just getting Trufant helps alot, but overall they will be crazy good.

Man our LB corp is going to be scary good. Especially if the front 4 controls the LOS. Future is bright for our birds.

Stray Dog THA GAWD likes this

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Falcons GM: Takk McKinley to be limited at camp but ready for season


Vaughn McClure | 5:07 PM ET


ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said rookie first-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley, who underwent pre-draft shoulder surgery, will be limited to begin training camp Thursday but is expected be ready for the regular season.

McKinley, who was prohibited from remaining with the team after rookie minicamp due to NFL rules regarding final exams at his college (UCLA), has been at the team's facility working out as of late. The timeline for the initial right shoulder surgery, performed in March, involved a four-to-six month recovery for McKinley.

Dimitroff was asked if McKinley would be held out of all activities to begin camp.

"I'm not sure exactly sitting out, but it will be limited in terms of what his participation will be," Dimitroff said.

Although no timeline was set for McKinley to have full participation in practice, Dimitroff said the Falcons are targeting the third or fourth preseason game for McKinley to get some meaningful reps.

"I think we'd love for him to be able to participate in the games," Dimitroff said of the preseason. "That could be about a handful of plays. You never know. But our point is, we want to make sure that we are mindful of how we're healing him. But he's progressing well, and that's what we're excited and positive about."

Dimitroff made clear he expects McKinley to be ready for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener in Chicago against the Bears.

"It's not a concern for us going into the season," Dimitroff said.

McKinley, was drafted to add another quality edge rusher opposite Vic Beasley Jr., who led the league with 15.5 sacks last season. The Falcons have started to build a formidable front, with nose tackle Grady Jarrett coming off a record-tying three-sack performance in the Super Bowl and two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe joining the mix as a strong, big body up front to push the pocket.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn didn't rule out the possibility of the team re-signing seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney, who expressed a desire to continue his career. At the same time, Quinn said he wants to see what he has in the current group before making that decision. The Falcons have depth, particularly with the return of Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby from season-ending injuries. Plus, the coaches have been impressed with undrafted pass-rusher J'Terius Jones.

"We're excited about where our defensive front is," Dimitroff said. "We're excited about watching the development of that D-line."

Dimitroff was asked if the team will be extra cautious with McKinley going into the season.

"I think being cautious and being mindful of where he is," Dimitroff said. "He one of those guys we're going to have to keep the rein on in order to make sure that he doesn't (overdo it), because he wants to be out there now."

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Julio Jones news services | 6:39 PM ET


Atlanta Falcons receiver recently took a tumble off a Jet Ski, and when he emerged from the lake waters, he was missing something.

One of his diamond earrings, reportedly valued at about $150,000, had fallen out.

So the All-Pro receiver hired a dive team to scour Georgia's Lake Lanier to recover the lost jewelry, according to a report by WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

Divers, who went as far down as 65 feet, came up empty-handed on Tuesday, WXIA reported.

"It's down in crevasses and nooks and crannies," Richard Pickering, one of the salvage divers, told WXIA. "It's impossible -- absolutely impossible."

Asked whether the earring was worth $100,000, Jones told WXIA, "Yeah, yeah, it was worth a little bit."

Jones' jeweler said the earring is worth $150,000.

Jones, who reports to Falcons training camp on Wednesday, said he's just glad no one got hurt when he fell off the Jet Ski.

"As long as I'm good, it's materialistic stuff," he told WXIA. "You can always get that kind of stuff back."

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Devonta Freeman | 8:47 PM ET


ATLANTA -- Two-time Pro Bowl running back vows to remain patient about his contract situation as his agent and the Falcons continue negotiations.

Freeman, a 2014 fourth-round draft pick out of Florida State, is scheduled to make around $1.8 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Ten running backs are set to average more than $5 million per year over the next three seasons, led by Buffalo's LeSean McCoy at $10.525 million. And Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell is scheduled to make $12.12 million this season under the one-year franchise tag after not reaching a long-term deal with the Steelers.

Asked what would be a fair deal, Freeman told ESPN, "To me, a fair deal is whatever it takes to become a Falcon forever."

The Falcons have $8,663,895 in cap space, according to the latest NFL Players Association figures.

Freeman said from the beginning that he would not hold out for a new contract. After the second day of training camp Friday, he had an extended discussion with Arthur Blank, then embraced the team owner.

"He just was like he's going to take care of me and stuff like that," Freeman said. "He was like, 'It's a process. The whole thing is a process. Take it one day at a time.'"

Freeman said he appreciates Blank's support.

"I've been talking to Arthur Blank -- I call him AB -- I've been talking to him about the whole contract situation," Freeman said. "That's my guy. We text. We talk. That's why I try to tell the media we have an understanding. As long as we have an understanding, everything is going to be all right and everything is going to take care of itself."


Freeman's agent, Kristin Campbell, was in the Atlanta area earlier this week but left without a contract agreement. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said Freeman's contract was "100 percent" the focus this week going into training camp, but he did not put a timetable on getting a deal done.

Freeman said being on the football field is his "happy place" and allows him to eliminate all the clutter related to contract talks.

"I get to compete with my brothers, my coaches, just to get better every day," Freeman said.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he has discussed the contract situation with Freeman, as the team turns its focus to making another Super Bowl run.

"I didn't have to, but I definitely did," Quinn said. "The reason I'm saying that one is he's not somebody that got sideways, so it wasn't like I had to. But for most of the guys who are in that contract time to have discussions with, I definitely talk through. And I want to have an open line of communication with them.

"If there's something that's jamming them up or something that I can assist with, that's my responsibility, too, because their connection with the team and the staff and the coaches, that's an important one. So I want to make sure we're always keeping our lines clear."

Freeman explained what type of update he has received from Campbell on where things stand.

"She's enjoying the process. We all, as a whole, are enjoying the process," Freeman said. "It's an exciting moment. There's no need to have my head down because I'm happy. I'm still here in Atlanta. I'm on contract, so I'm still happy regardless of what."

Freeman is an integral part of the Falcons' high-powered offense alongside reigning MVP Matt Ryan and All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones. Freeman has accumulated 3,180 yards from scrimmage and 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

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Julio Jones Shares New Wrinkle In Sarkisian’s Offense


By Knox Bardeen | July 29, 2017 5:04 PM


FLOWERY BRANCH — Julio Jones seems to have little doubt that the Atlanta Falcons’ offense can return to its prowess from a season ago. But he’s not predicting new breakout players or magnificently different approaches in the offense.

Jones shared a few of the items his receiving corps has been working on this offseason. And while improving an offense that scored 33.8 points per game sounds thrilling, Jones’ news didn’t carry a lot of oomph to it.

He did, however, shed some light on a hot topic.

One of the bigger off-the-field questions from the offseason revolved around an historically prolific offense and how it would react to former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving for San Francisco. Could new OC Steve Sarkisian come in a keep pace, and what changes would he make.

Everything the team has said makes us think not much will change with Sarkisian. New wrinkles, not new schemes and sets.

One of those new wrinkles, according to Jones, is about new roles for a few receivers.

Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel combined for 1,232 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns through the air last season as the Nos. 2 and 3 pass-catching threats behind Jones. With 33 first downs (second on the team behind Jones) and an 11.1 yards-per-catch average, Sanu was the short- to medium-route option that moved chains.

Gabriel caught six touchdowns and averaged 16.5 yards per catch. He was an over-the-top threat any time he ran a route.

“Those guys can be the best receivers in the league at what they do,” said Jones on Saturday. “For him [Sanu], he’s already great at something. He’s just got to work at other things now, like deep threats; being a deep threat, which he can do. Last year we didn’t show a lot of that for him.”

Six of Sanu’s 59 receptions were for 20 yards or greater; his long was 59 yards.

“Taylor Gabriel,” Jones continued, “his thing is, he’s a deep-ball threat for us. He needs to work on smaller, intermediate routes.”

Almost 23 percent of Gabriel’s receptions (35) went for 20 yards or greater.

If Sanu can turn into a deep-threat option and Gabriel can run and churn yardage on shorter routes, opposing defenses may have trouble adapting. That’s the point, per Jones.

“Everybody, we’re all just trying to work on everything and not have a weakness,” said Jones. “[We’re tyring to avoid] ‘Oh, when this guy is in, he’s just a go-ball runner.’

The Falcons enjoyed 13 different receivers hauling in touchdown passes in 2016. Sarkisian may not be reinventing the wheel by asking Sanu and Gabriel to learn how to flourish at different route depths, but he’s is adding more variances to an offense that was the most versatile in the league.

[Listen to the entire interview with Julio Jones by clicking above.]


©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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