Tagged in: cornerback

Stafford, Rams hold off Falcons for 31-27 victory

Jalen Ramsey was calm and collected, even in the maelstrom of the fourth quarter that saw the Atlanta Falcons putting together a late rally versus the Los Angeles Rams.

While most of the 71,802 inside of SoFi Stadium were dreading the worst Sunday, the All-Pro cornerback knew he was going to be a deciding factor in the final minutes.

With the Falcons driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, Ramsey picked off Marcus Mariota’s pass intended for Bryan Edwards in the end zone, permitting the Rams to hold on for a 31-27 victory.

“I told my teammates it was gonna come back to me and it did,” Ramsey said. “I just continued to focus and do my job. That was going through my mind because in the past we pressed to make those plays. And when you do that, it doesn’t end up well for you.”

The defending Super Bowl champions led the entire game. But they nearly blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead that would have given the young Falcons an unlikely comeback of their own from that infamous score — Atlanta’s lead in the 2017 Super Bowl before New England rallied to win — to celebrate.

Mariota had second-half touchdown passes to Drake London and Olamide Zaccheaus to bring the Falcons within 31-17. Special teams and defense then came through to give the veteran quarterback a final chance.

Troy Anderson blocked a punt that Lorenzo Carter returned 26 yards for a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion pass from Mariota to London brought the Falcons within 31-25 with 5:06 left. It was their first blocked punt TD since 1990.

Los Angeles turned it over on their ensuing drive when Darren Hall forced Kupp to fumble and recovered it at the Rams 37. Mariota got the Falcons to the Rams 24 before throwing the fateful interception.

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“That’s on me, I’ve got to do a better job of communicating that across the board,” said Mariota, who was 17 of 26 for 196 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “I think, kind of throughout the game I could have done a better job operationally and just communicating with the guys so that everybody’s on the same page.”

Los Angeles took a safety when returner Brandon Powell ran out of the end zone on punt formation after a three-and-out.

After the free kick, Atlanta took over at the Falcons 40, but Mariota was sacked before he could get a Hail Mary attempt off on the final play to ensure Atlanta’s fourth consecutive 0-2 start.

“There’s a lot of different, very uncharacteristic things, but they happened. And we still found a way,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “We’re not going to run away from some of the things that we didn’t do well today. But we’re also going to allow ourselves to appreciate being able to come away with a win.”

Matthew Stafford threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns and Cooper Kupp had two TD catches for the Rams, who bounced back from a disappointing defeat versus the Buffalo Bills in their season opener.

Stafford completed his first 12 passes en route to going 27 of 36. Kupp had 11 catches for 108 yards and touchdowns on consecutive drives in the second and third quarters.

Kupp made an over-the-shoulder catch on a fade pattern on second-and-3 from Atlanta’s 3 late in the first half to give the Rams a 21-3 lead. The Super Bowl MVP’s first score came three plays after Rams rookie cornerback Cobie Durant picked off a pass bobbled by Cordarrelle Patterson and returned it 51 yards up the right sideline to the Falcons 9.

The Rams then took the second half kickoff and extended their lead by another touchdown when Kupp caught a quick pass and juked safety Jaylinn Hawkins for a 10-yard TD.

The Falcons were able to move the ball in the first half, but were done in by mistakes. The Rams scored their 21 points after a missed field goal by Younghoe Koo, turnover on downs near midfield and Mariota’s first interception.

“Obviously it wasn’t perfect and we need to break through, but one thing about our guys, no matter what has happened, we have a chance until the last play to win it,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Obviously we didn’t make enough plays, but the game playing gave us enough and the guys kept grinding out.”

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Green Bay Packers, Jaire Alexander finalizing four-year, $84M extension

It was never a question of if the Green Bay Packers were going to sign All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander to a contract extension. It was only a matter of when and for how much.

It happened on Monday, and it included a defensive-back-record signing bonus of $30 million as part of a four-year, $84 million contract, Alexander’s agent, John Thornton, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Alexander’s new deal averages $21 million per year, also a new mark for defensive backs.

Alexander had previously been tied to the Packers for only this season on the fifth-year option to his rookie contract. That would have paid him $13.294 million for 2022, and the whole total would have counted on this year’s salary cap. With the signing bonus prorated and a lower base salary of $1.076 million, the Packers will create significant additional salary-cap space.

Before this deal, they had about $11 million in cap space. Exactly how much cap space was created won’t be known until the full details of the contract become available.

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Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst had hinted that an extension for Alexander wouldn’t be far off.

When asked before the draft last month whether they could get a long-term deal done with him, Gutekunst said: “I think we’ll get [through] this draft weekend and we’ll go down that road with some of those players.”

“He’s such a big part of what we’re doing; he’s been such a good player for us since the day he kind of arrived,” Gutekunst said of Alexander earlier this offseason. “We’d love for [an extension] to happen. Certainly we’ve been in communication with his representation and we will continue to be as we go through the year.”

The Packers’ first-round pick (No. 18) in 2018 quickly became a star. He was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team in 2018, was picked as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 and made his first Pro Bowl in 2020 — when he also earned second-team All-Pro honors.

Although he played in only four matches last regular season because of a shoulder injury, he returned after a three-month absence to play in the NFC divisional playoff game versus the 49ers.

He led the Packers in pass breakups in each of his first three seasons and had the fourth-most pass breakups in the NFL from 2018 to 2020 with 42, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. Only James Bradberry (with 45), Stephon Gilmore (43) and Janoris Jenkins (43) had more.

The Packers have made a significant commitment to the cornerback position in the past year. They drafted Eric Stokes in the first round of the 2021 draft and then this March re-signed Rasul Douglas to a three-year, $21 million deal.

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New York Giants release James Bradberry after failing to find trade partner for CB

The New York Giants released cornerback James Bradberry on Monday to save about $10.1 million against the salary cap this season.

New general manager Joe Schoen was seeking to trade Bradberry since before free agency in March but couldn’t find anything that worked for all parties involved. Schoen acknowledged last week he was surprised there wasn’t more interest in the team’s No. 1 cornerback.

“Yeah, I was,” he stated Wednesday on WFAN Sports Radio. “I thought there would be more interest. There were some teams that showed interest pre-draft, and we had a couple different times there were compensation in place and the contract never worked out. Being the fact that we did have good talks with the other teams and their agents had good talks with teams, sometimes if you’re going to renegotiate a contract and couldn’t come to an agreement, it is what it is.”

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The move for the Giants was more about the money than an indictment on the player.

Bradberry, 28, was set to make $13.5 million this season and would have counted as $21.9 million on the team’s salary cap. His release leaves the Giants thin at cornerback, where the oft-injured Adoree’ Jackson is the only veteran with significant starting experience.

The Giants needed the savings to sign their draft class and operate throughout the season. They were just $6 million under the cap as of last week, according to the Roster Management System.

Bradberry had $2 million of his $13.4 million base salary guaranteed at the start of the league year.

“Listen, he’s a starting corner in the league,” Schoen told WFAN last week. “It’s just where we are financially. We still got to sign our draft picks, be able to sign our practice squad and have replacement costs for during the season.”

Despite the move, the Giants still have to eat almost $10 million in dead money against the cap. That leaves them with close to $30 million in dead money for this upcoming season, fifth-most in the NFL.

The Giants also lost one of their most productive players. Bradberry was one of just five players on the roster to make a Pro Bowl in their career. He was their top cornerback last season and made the Pro Bowl in his first year with the Giants in 2020, when he had a career-best 79.8 Pro Football Focus grade.

He has been in the 60s in every other year of his career. The veteran cornerback had a career high with four interceptions and recovered a pair of fumbles this past campaign.

Bradberry, who went to Samford, spent the first four years of his career with the Carolina Panthers. The Giants signed him as a free agent in the 2020 offseason to a deal worth $43.5 million over three years.

He was entering the final year of that deal, which made it more difficult to trade him as a one-year rental, unless there was a new deal worked out. He has played in 92 career games (91 starts) for the Giants and Panthers.

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Pittsburgh Steelers acquire CB Ahkello Witherspoon from Seattle Seahawks

After an initial 53-man roster that was short on cornerbacks, the Steelers have fortified the position by obtaining Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks for a 2023 fifth-round pick, the teams revealed.

Witherspoon, 26, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Seahawks in March and was expected to compete for the starting job at left cornerback, but Seattle moved D.J. Reed over to the left side and Tre Flowers into the starting role at right cornerback, making Witherspoon a trade candidate. A day earlier, Seattle traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sidney Jones.

Witherspoon was unsatisfied by being relegated to a backup role, a source told ESPN’s Brady Henderson. The Steelers will take on $1.5 million of Witherspoon’s salary, while the Seahawks save that amount against their cap. However, Seattle is still on the hook for $1.25 million in dead money in 2021 and 2022 from his signing bonus.

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Witherspoon was taken in the third round by San Francisco in 2017 and started 33 of 47 career games with the 49ers in four seasons. He recorded 116 tackles and four interceptions and had 24 passes defended.

The Steelers initially had just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster following cuts: Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Joe Haden. They added one more a day later, signing Arthur Maulet after moving three other players to injured reserve.

Before adding Maulet, defensive coordinator Keith Butler expressed apprehension about entering the season with so few cornerbacks.

“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with four cornerbacks,” Butler said. “We’ve got guys who can play different positions. Cam can play different positions. He can play the nickel. Forty-two [Pierre] has shown that he can play in preseason.

“We think we’re OK right now to play them in different positions. If somebody becomes available out there in never-never land, we’ll see what happens.”

Witherspoon gives the Steelers depth at cornerback behind veterans Haden and Sutton, who emerged late in training camp as the likely slot cornerback after Mike Hilton’s departure. With Sutton in the slot, undrafted free agent Pierre was slated to be the outside cornerback opposite Haden.

The outside cornerback depth is young and relatively unproven, and Witherspoon’s experience elevates the position group.

The Steelers released defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux to make room on the roster for Witherspoon.

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C.J. Henderson rejoins Jacksonville Jaguars after missing Sunday scrimmage

Jaguars cornerback C.J. Henderson returned to practice Tuesday after being excused from Sunday’s scrimmage for personal reasons, and the team is positive that the second-year player can make up for all the time he has missed in training camp before the Sept. 12 season opener.

Henderson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list July 23. He was activated Friday but has participated in only two of the team’s 11 practices.

“He can make us a lot better football team,” assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Charlie Strong said Tuesday. “Just to see him get around us and get out on the field and go to work was really exciting.

“I think we’ve still got enough time here [to get him ready]. We’re what, a month still out from playing our first game, and then we have these preseason games and they will be good to get him back so he can get out there and run around.

But just knowing that he can get back and we can just teach him the defense and he can learn it, because we’re doing a lot on defense and it would be good for him to get back and just go through the whole learning process. Even if he can’t come after practice, just being in the classroom really helps.”

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Strong said he and coach Urban Meyer are committed to helping Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick in 2020, recover from a hard rookie season that included a shoulder and groin injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve in November and that the two recently visited Henderson at his home.

“Any time you have a great young man like that, you want to make sure that you do everything possible to help him and to help him get back on track,” Strong said.

“I was telling Coach, I said, ‘We’re out of the process of just trying to just get guys and just push them aside.’ Our whole thing is just creating value for him.

“… He wants to play. And that’s the thing. He’s going to do everything he can to get back, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him get back.”

Henderson’s NFL debut in 2020 was impressive, with five tackles, an interception and three pass breakups, including one on fourth down to seal the Jaguars’ triumph over the Indianapolis Colts.

Henderson injured his shoulder three weeks later but played through it, which contributed to his inconsistency.

A groin injury suffered versus the Green Bay Packers ended his season after eight games.

Henderson, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, was expected to be the Jaguars’ top cornerback in 2021, but Sidney Jones worked in his spot with the first-team defense during Henderson’s time on the reserve list. Henderson worked with the second-team defense at times Tuesday.

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New Orleans Saints agree to deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a deal with free agent cornerback Brian Poole, pending a physical, a source confirmed.

Terms of the agreement were not instantly known. NFL reporter Josina Anderson first reported that Poole stated he intends to sign a one-year deal with the Saints on Monday.

Poole, 28, spent his first five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets after going undrafted out of Florida.

The 5-foot-10, 213-pounder established himself as one of the NFL’s top slot cornerbacks before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 9 last year.

Poole had two interceptions, one sack and seven pass break-ups in his abbreviated 2020 season with the Jets. He has seven interceptions and six sacks in 70 career games.

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Cornerback has been a pressing need for the Saints ever since they released veteran starter Janoris Jenkins during a salary-cap purge at the start of the offseason.

Poole is a curious fit since he primarily plays in the slot – where New Orleans has other proven options like safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Patrick Robinson. But the increased depth and talent can’t hurt.

The Saints, who recently created more than $10 million in cap space through revised contracts, could also look to add more veteran help at wide receiver and defensive tackle as they head toward the beginning of training camp this week.

Poole is known for his physical coverage against slot receivers, yet he was called for only three penalties in 2019 and none in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

He spent his first three years with the Falcons, and quickly became an integral part of the defense. As a rookie, he saw significant playing time on their NFC championship squad. In 2018, he struggled at times in pass coverage, prompting the Falcons to set him free by declining his restricted-free agent tender.

Poole proved to be a solid, cost-effective acquisition for the Jets, first signing a one-year, $3 million deal in 2019, then a one-year $5 million deal in 2020.

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New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore reports to training camp

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who had skipped June’s mandatory minicamp, reported to the team on Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. Gilmore was subsequently placed on the active/physically unable to perform list due to a partially torn quad sustained in December.

While the majority of Patriots players report for training camp on Tuesday, quarterbacks and players recovering from injuries were booked to arrive Thursday.

There was a question whether Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, would report. He had stayed away from voluntary practices in the spring, as well as mandatory minicamp, while publicly expressing a desire for the team to upgrade his contract.

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Gilmore is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7 million in 2021.

The Patriots had advanced him $4.5 million of his 2021 salary last year, contributing to the under-market wage for this season.

Gilmore, who turns 31 in September, is in the final year of the five-year, $65 million contract he signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. The deal included $40 million in injury guarantees and $31 million fully guaranteed at signing.

At the time, a contract with those guarantees and an average of $13 million per season was viewed as a strong deal. The cornerback market has since exploded, with Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams topping it with a contract averaging $20 million per season.

“I just want what I’m worth, however that plays out. Every player should be paid what they’re worth. That’s just how it is,” Gilmore told longtime NFL reporter Josina Anderson earlier in July.

Of his quad injury, Gilmore told Anderson: “I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt since the surgery. I’ve been running a lot, building full speed.”

Gilmore was one of eight players placed on the PUP list on Thursday, with quarterback Jarrett Stidham another notable player on the list.

Outside linebacker Chase Winovich, defensive tackle Byron Cowart, linebacker Terez Hall, tight end Dalton Keene, core special-teamer Brandon King and wide receiver Devin Smith were the other players placed on the PUP list.

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson (fourth round, Oklahoma), linebacker Cameron McGrone (fifth round, Michigan) and safety Joshuah Bledsoe (sixth round, Missouri) were rookies previously placed on the active/non-football injury list.

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Rams return Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but questions remain for defending No. 1 defense

With the promise of an improved offense, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense is preparing for an encore performance.

Last season, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey spurred the unit to the top of the NFL.

Both star playmakers return after a 10-6 campaign that resulted in divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. So does outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract after a career-best campaign in which he tallied 10.5 sacks.

But gone is defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who inherited a defense that ranked ninth in efficiency and improved it to first in his only season before departing to become the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coach. Enter defense coordinator Raheem Morris, who held the same post last season with the Atlanta Falcons for five games before being promoted to interim head coach.

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Morris takes over a defense that permitted a league-low 18.5 points in 2020.

He is expected to maintain what Staley installed, including the base 3-4 scheme, but will add some of his own wrinkles to shape a unit that can propel the Rams to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next February.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” Morris said at his introductory news conference when asked about taking over the league’s top-ranked defense. “I think it’s more of an opportunity.”

Last season, the Rams ranked No. 1 in passing yards permitted per game at 190.7. They ranked No. 3 versus the run, allowing only 91.3 rushing yards per game.

However, there’s room for improvement, especially at creating turnovers. The Rams forced 22 turnovers last season, which ranked 10th, and intercepted 14 passes, ranking 12th.

Entering the NFL draft last month, Rams coach Sean McVay said the Rams did not have any glaring holes that needed to be filled. Along with Donald, Ramsey and Floyd, the Rams also return cornerback Darious Williams, whose coming off a breakthrough season that included four interceptions, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former sixth-round pick who is entering his third season as a starter.

But some of their key playmakers have departed.

Four defensive starters left this offseason, including veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers — who was traded to Detroit — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III.

The Rams used five of their nine draft picks to select defensive players: South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones, Texas A&M defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell, Northwestern defensive lineman Earnest Brown IV and Concordia-St. Paul outside linebacker Chris Garrett.

“You look at each of them and there’s a vision that we have for them and how they fit, how they provide value for a football team,” said McVay, who’s entering his fifth season as coach.

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Kansas City Chiefs acquire CB Mike Hughes from Minnesota Vikings

The Kansas City Chiefs obtained cornerback Mike Hughes in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday.

The Chiefs traded a 2022 sixth-round pick to Minnesota while the Vikings sent a 2022 seventh-round pick to Kansas City in the deal.

Hughes was drafted by the Vikings in the first round (30th overall) of the 2018 NFL draft. The Vikings declined to exercise the fifth-year option in Hughes’ rookie contract, meaning he will be a free agent after this campaign.

Hughes will be given the opportunity to compete for playing time with the Chiefs immediately. One starter from last season, Bashaud Breeland, is a free agent and remains unsigned.

Hughes will join a group of cornerbacks that contains Charvarius Ward, a starter the past two seasons, and L’Jarius Sneed, a fourth-round draft pick last year who played well as the third cornerback.

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The Chiefs last year acquired another former No. 1 draft pick, DeAndre Baker, after he was released by the New York Giants. Baker broke his left leg in the final regular-season game last season.

Hughes was limited to just four games last season because of a neck injury that resulted in him being placed on injured reserve in October.

Multiple injuries, including a torn ACL his rookie season and neck injury that ended Hughes’ season on injured reserve in 2020, limited the cornerback to 24 games with seven starts over the first three years of his career.

Hughes recorded 80 tackles, had 13 passes defended and two interceptions — returning one for a touchdown — in his three seasons with Minnesota, predominantly playing in the slot in the Vikings’ nickel defense.

With 2020 first-round pick Jeff Gladneyin the legal process after an alleged domestic assault in April, it is possible the Vikings will turn to newly re-signed cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who spent the first four seasons (2016-19) of his career in Minnesota, to play the nickel corner position.

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CB Casey Hayward Jr. signs with Las Vegas Raiders, rejoins DC Gus Bradley

The Las Vegas Raiders added a veteran presence to their youthful secondary by signing cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. on Tuesday.

Hayward, 31, a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012, joins cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen (drafted in the second round in 2019), Damon Arnette (first round in 2020), Amik Robertson (fourth round in 2020) and Nate Hobbs (fifth round in 2021), as well as safeties Johnathan Abram (first round in 2019), Trevon Moehrig (second round in 2021) and Tyree Gillespie (fourth round in 2021).

The move also reunites Hayward, who was released by the Los Angeles Chargers in March, with Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who was his defensive coordinator in Los Angeles the past four campaigns. The Raiders hired Bradley as their defensive coordinator in January.

The signing could mean the Raiders will not move on another veteran free-agent cornerback in Richard Sherman, who has also been linked to Las Vegas. Hayward, 31, appeared in 14 matches last season, making 13 starts.

He finished with an interception and eight passes defended. He was inactive for the Nov. 29 game at Buffalo, snapping a streak of 107 consecutive games played.

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The signing could mean the Raiders will not move on another veteran free-agent cornerback in Richard Sherman, who has also been linked to Las Vegas.

Hayward, 31, appeared in 14 matches last season, making 13 starts. He finished with an interception and eight passes defended. He was inactive for the Nov. 29 game at Buffalo, snapping a streak of 107 consecutive games played.

During his five seasons with the Chargers, Hayward had 66 passes defensed, which led the AFC during that span. He led the NFL with seven interceptions in 2016 and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017.

He has 23 career interceptions, though only three in his past three seasons combined.

Hayward dealt with back, groin and hamstring injuries in 2020, and while he led the NFL with 42 pass breakups over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, he permitted 8.6 yards per target in 2020, the worst mark of his career.

Arnette, meanwhile, allowed 11.8 yards per target, and Mullen gave up 7.7 yards per target. Hayward could potentially start on the outside in place of Arnette.

The Raiders also signed cornerback Rasul Douglas on April 19 and safety Karl Joseph, a first-round pick of the Raiders in 2016 who spent last season with Cleveland, on April 9.

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