NFC East: Kyle Orton

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • What I would do with the 16th pick in the draft if I was the general manager.
  • What about a quarterback in the second round?
  • What about Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne?
  • What about the salary-cap implications of letting Kyle Orton go?

Away we go:
 
ORLANDO -- Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he expects backup quarterback Kyle Orton to return in 2014.

There was some concern following the 2013 season that Orton would retire, but apparently finances and the lure of playing one more year proved to be too great.

"Yes, that’s how I understand it," Jones said at the NFL owners meetings on Monday. "I guess everyone reserves the right to change their mind. We’ve just talked to (Orton's agent) Dave (Dunn) briefly. We’re assuming he’s under contract and he is."

Orton is scheduled to make a base salary of $3.25 million in 2014 and has a cap number of $4.377 million. If Orton retires, he would need to pay the Cowboys at least $3 million.

Orton's contract doesn't end until 2016, yet, the Cowboys have until the 23rd day of the 2015 league year to void the last two seasons of his contract, which they are expected to do. Orton played well for an injured Tony Romo in the 2013 regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. Orton completed 30-of-46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The last interception, in the fourth quarter, sealed the victory for the Eagles and knocked the Cowboys from playoff contention.

When the season ended, some thought Orton might retire, but further conversations with him indicated otherwise.

What also led to speculation that the Cowboys and Orton would part ways is the signing of Brandon Weeden as the No. 3 QB. Weeden, a 2012 first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns, lasted two seasons before getting released.

The Cowboys have signed him to a two-year contract.

Jones said Weeden's signing had nothing to do with Orton.

"That was an opportunity," Jones said. "I think it was well-documented that we had him in our second round. That was a chance to get a quarterback -- I know he’s not young -- but he’s young as far as league years are concerned. We like him. But if he proves out he’s worth developing, then we’ll carry three, like we did with (Stephen) McGee for many years."
IRVING, Texas -- Last week, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was praised for making the difficult decision to release DeMarcus Ware.

For all that Ware accomplished (team's all-time sack leader) and for all that he meant to Jones, the owner stuck to the disciplined outline the Cowboys are operating under in 2014.

Melton
So now that Henry Melton and Jared Allen have come and gone from Valley Ranch, you can't blame Jones for not being willing to spend big bucks on somebody he just met.

If he was "right" in deciding to part ways with Ware -- for the record, I think it was the wrong move and would have signed him to a re-worked deal although not at the level the Denver Broncos paid Ware -- then at least he is being consistent by not giving into the contractual demands of Melton and Allen.

At least for now.

We'll find out this season if Jones was "right" in holding strong if they don't end up joining the Cowboys and go to another team and either play well or they don't play well.

Allen
Melton is off to his fourth team on his free-agency tour with the St. Louis Rams. He also met with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Allen has also met with the Seahawks.

Generally speaking, the more visits a player makes the more it means he is not getting the deal he wants. It is well within the player's rights to shop for the best deal on the open market. Jason Hatcher met with the Seahawks, Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. The one team he didn't meet with face to face, the Washington Redskins, made the best offer that even Hatcher said blew the other offers out of the water.

At the NFL scouting combine, executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient spenders in free agency. Giving Melton, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the moon, and Allen, who turns 32 next month, the stars would not be efficient spending.

When a team acts desperately in free agency, they tend to make a mistake. One of the best free-agent signings the Cowboys made was inking La'Roi Glover in 2002. One of the least productive was signing Marcellus Wiley to a four-year, $16 million deal in 2004. He produced three sacks, but the Cowboys had to have him.

In 2012, the Cowboys recruited Brandon Carr, Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Dan Connor and Kyle Orton in free agency. They were closers. They used the digital board to show the team's history and most of the players' highlights to help close the deal. They also paid an awful lot of money for them.

The Cowboys weren't able to close the deals for Melton and Allen on their visits, but that doesn't mean they won't sign them eventually.

And if they do, then it likely won't be for the stars or the moon.
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IRVING, Texas -- Most of the reactions to the Dallas Cowboys signing quarterback Brandon Weeden have been sarcastic, mean and vulgar, which is fine, although on a public forum you would expect more people to have some decorum.

That’s another conversation for another time for some sociological experiment at a pay grade much higher than mine.

I'll just stick with the signing of Weeden.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAdding former Browns QB Brandon Weeden cost the Cowboys very little.
The Cowboys are taking a low-cost, low-risk move on a former first-round quarterback who had to suffer through playing for the Cleveland Browns. If it does not work out, then it costs the Cowboys nothing. If it does work out and Weeden makes the roster, then he counts $75,000 more against the cap than Quinton Spears.

Who?

Exactly.

The Cowboys wanted to have another arm available to them in the offseason program to protect themselves from overworking Tony Romo during the quarterback’s recovery from rehab. And if Kyle Orton is serious about this retirement talk, he won’t be a part of the offseason program, either. The only part of it Orton would have to show up for is the June minicamp.

If Orton does retire, he would need to repay $3 million of a $5 million signing bonus he received in 2012. Do you think he wants to pay that money back? If the Cowboys cut him, he’s free and clear.

The addition of Weeden can actually help the Cowboys later in the summer. As I detailed here, perhaps there is a trade scenario that could develop in training camp for Orton or even Weeden if a team loses a starting or backup quarterback.

If Weeden does stick, then the Cowboys have a veteran quarterback behind Romo in 2015 to be the backup who spent a year around the players, learning the system. (I will quickly acknowledge the system might not be the same in 2015 should Jason Garrett not earn an extension.)

The addition of Weeden does not preclude the Cowboys from drafting a quarterback in May, either. It does not even mean they will keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster when the season starts.

There was a time not so long ago that more than a few teams liked Weeden. Maybe not as much as the Browns, who took him in the first round, but enough that they thought he could play. His record is poor, but find me a quarterback with the Browns with a good record. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is poor, but the Cowboys aren’t asking him to come in and start.

The NFL is a player acquisition business. On Monday, the Cowboys acquired a player whom they liked two years ago, who played well enough against them in 2012 and costs nothing but a spot on the roster right now.
The Cowboys visit with quarterback Brandon Weeden today can be viewed in several ways.

Weeden was a favorite of the Cowboys coaches a couple of years ago when he came out of Oklahoma State. His age, currently 30, doesn’t scare the Cowboys because there’s a maturity level associated with it and an expectation he could handle the pressures of being a NFL starter at the position.

But after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Weeden's compiled a 5-15 mark as a starter and an ungodly mark in Week 1 contests with one touchdown and seven interceptions.

Maybe under the right system, Weeden can excel.

Enter the Cowboys and their timing-based offense. There is no pressure on Weeden to perform with the Cowboys because he’s the No. 3 to Tony Romo and baring injury, isn’t going to sit down for anyone.

So Weeden can learn from Romo and the bounty of offensive coaches, quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, passing game coordinator Scott Linehan and coach Jason Garrett about the position.

The flip side to this is backup quarterback Kyle Orton.

Team officials are not sure if he’s returning to the team in 2014. Orton is scheduled to make a base salary of $3.2 million with a cap figure of $4.377 million. If Orton retires, he stands to lose $3 million in not only base salary but the money he would have to give back to the Cowboys for not fulfilling his end of the contract.

Orton has two years remaining on his contract, but the team can void those if he’s on the roster by the 15th day of the league year in 2015.

So in reality, Orton is playing his last year in Dallas and Weeden, if he signs, becomes the No. 2 quarterback in 2015, which is a pivotal year for the franchise.

Why?

Garrett is in the last year of his contract and if he fails to get the Cowboys into the postseason, it’s almost a certainty he won’t get a new deal.

So Weeden will have to learn a new offensive system again for a new coach, if that new coach is as attractive to him as Garrett is.

Weeden finds himself in an interesting situation because if he comes to Dallas, a place that would embrace him and allow him to grow at the position, he might succeed if given the starting job one day.

If 2014 turns into another playoff-less season, then he could be back to square one.
IRVING, Texas – As the Dallas Cowboys ponder what to do with Henry Melton, Jared Allen and Brandon Weeden, let's clean up some salary-cap issues.

First the good news: Well, for Tony Romo and Sean Lee it's good news.

Romo and Lee will receive $5 million payments on their deferred signing bonus money this week. Romo received a $25 million signing bonus last year as part of his six-year, $106 million extension. Lee received a $10 million signing bonus last summer as part of a six-year, $42 million extension.

Now the bad news:

With last week's decision to designate Miles Austin a post-June 1 cut, the Cowboys created $5.5 million in salary-cap room in 2014 but they do not get the credit until June. Most of that money will go to their draft picks. But that move also created $5.105 million in dead money against the 2015 salary cap.

The Cowboys are also looking at $3.98 million in 2015 in dead money once the final two years of Doug Free's deal voids. There will be another $2.254 million in dead money once Kyle Orton's deal expires. The Cowboys could look to extend Free's contract this year, which could keep that nearly $4 million off the books.

And now some good news again:

One way to look at the release of DeMarcus Ware, which opened up $7.4 million in space this year, is that it created $17.5 million in cap room in 2015 because he is off the books.
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys coaches return from a week off on Monday, they will welcome two free-agent visitors.

Weeden
Defensive tackle Henry Melton and quarterback Brandon Weeden will visit Valley Ranch on Monday, according to sources.

Melton would fill an obvious need with the departure of Jason Hatcher to the Washington Redskins. Weeden could offer the Cowboys protection in case Kyle Orton retires. Weeden could be looking for a place to rebuild his career after a two-year stint with the Cleveland Browns.

With the Cowboys back in the office, it will allow Melton to meet with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who helped develop him into a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys also liked Weeden coming into the 2012 draft.

Weeden had a 5-15 record after the Browns took him in the first round of the 2012 draft. He completed 438 of 784 passes for 5,116 yards with 23 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions.

The Cowboys believe Orton will continue to play in part because he is set to make $3.25 million. If he chose to retire he would have to pay back $3 million of a $5 million signing bonus he received in 2012.

The Cowboys have not carried a third quarterback on the roster since 2011 when they had Stephen McGee behind Tony Romo and Jon Kitna. They had Alex Tanney on the practice squad for much of last season before losing him to the Browns, and re-signed Kitna for the final week of the season after Romo got hurt.

Analyzing what Weeden could mean

March, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Judging from the reaction on Twitter to the Dallas Cowboys' interest in Brandon Weeden, not many of you want to see the former Cleveland Browns quarterback with the Cowboys.

Let me offer up a way the addition of Weeden could make sense.

Weeden
With Tony Romo, Kyle Orton and Weeden, the Cowboys would be set on the position for 2014 and it would probably take them out of picking a quarterback in the draft. The Cowboys liked Weeden coming out in 2012 but obviously not at the first-round level. He is older, but they viewed that as a positive and were not viewing him as a possible long-term replacement.

Things went poorly for Weeden in Cleveland. He deserves blame, but the Browns deserve a lot of blame too. He had two different coaches, two different coordinators and the guy who selected him, Mike Holmgren, was gone too. So there is that to consider. A fresh start might serve him well and I'd have to think Jason Garrett would get a read on Weeden from Norv Turner, who was his coordinator last year.

The Browns have been a place where every quarterback has gone to die, so taking a low-risk, low-cost flier on a quarterback you liked just two years ago makes some sense.

So let's fast forward to training camp and the preseason. Let's say another team loses a quarterback to injury and wants to find veteran help. We can all assume that there won't be a lot of quarterbacks available that can step in and play right away, right?

How high would a guy like Orton be on the list for a lot of teams? He threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns in his only start last year. He played extremely well in that loss; better than anybody ever expected.

If Weeden performs well enough (however you want to define that), then the Cowboys could feel comfortable in trading Orton to a team with a big need at quarterback and get a draft pick in return. Remember, this is Orton's last year under contract. If the Cowboys trade Orton before the season starts, but after July 1, then they would gain $3.25 million in cap space in 2014.

Provided he does not retire, which would be unexpected, Orton is set to count $2.254 million in dead money against the cap because of the two voidable years remaining on his contract. So the Cowboys would gain cap space that they could use to roll over in 2015 and get a draft pick for a player they were not going to keep anyway.

Does that make you feel any better?
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have expressed an interest in quarterback Brandon Weeden, according to sources.

Weeden
The Cleveland Browns released their 2012 first-round pick on Wednesday after he threw 23 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions with a 5-15 record as a starter in two seasons. Weeden, who turns 31 in October, threw for 5,116 yards, completing 438-of-784 passes.

The Cowboys have Kyle Orton as their backup to Tony Romo, and the Cowboys believe he will continue to play rather than retire with a $3.25 million base salary in 2014. If he retires, he would owe the Cowboys $3 million of the $5 million base salary he received in 2012. If he is cut, the Cowboys would save roughly $900,000 in cap space.

Orton turns 32 in November and is in the final year of his contract. After Romo went down in Week 16 with a back injury, Orton came off the bench for the 2013 season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles to throw for 358 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.

Weeden signed a four-year deal worth $8.1 million as the No. 22 pick in the first round two years ago. He is still owed more than $2 million in guaranteed money, but the Browns would only have to make up the difference if Weeden makes less from his new team.

It is possible the Cowboys could carry Romo, Orton and Weeden on the 53-man roster if they were to sign him.

The Cowboys have not carried a third quarterback on the roster since 2011 when they had Stephen McGee behind Romo and Jon Kitna. They had Alex Tanney on the practice squad for much of last season before losing him to the Browns, and re-signed Kitna for the final week of the season after Romo got hurt.

The Cowboys liked Weeden coming out of Oklahoma State. He set school records in yards and touchdowns in 2011 for the Cowboys after a short-lived career in professional baseball.

Cowboys are getting younger

March, 12, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- These are not your father's Dallas Cowboys, so to speak.

Once a team stocked with enough players to field a softball team in an over-30 league, the Cowboys are getting young.

With the releases of DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, the Cowboys have three starters over 30 years old in Tony Romo, who turns 34 next month, Jason Witten, who turns 32 in May and Doug Free, who turned 30 in January.

The only other thirty-somethings on the roster are backup quarterback Kyle Orton, who is 31, and long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur, who turns 33 on Thursday.

Not included on the list are free agents Anthony Spencer (30) and Jason Hatcher (31).

Ware turns 32 in July and Austin turns 30 in June.

The Cowboys have refused to use the word "rebuild" over the last three seasons but they have re-tooled their roster moving away from Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo on the offensive line and Ware, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman on the defensive line.

They have made the decision to not restructure the contracts of Witten and Brandon Carr, who turns 28 in May, unless absolutely necessary so they do not push more money into the salary cap in future years.

For years people have called the NFL a young man's game. The Cowboys are moving to a younger man's team.
IRVING, Texas -- The free-agent shopping starts today at 3 p.m. CT.

If the Dallas Cowboys have learned anything, it’s that they should use coupons.

From 2006-11, the Cowboys signed 12 players in unrestricted free agency. Only two players who signed multi-year deals reached the end of their contracts: Kyle Kosier signed a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cowboys in 2006 and was with the team through 2011. Keith Brooking signed a three-year, $6 million deal in 2009 and was a contributor through 2011.

Igor Olshansky (2009), Leonard Davis (2007) and Akin Ayodele (2006) are the only other players who made it more than one season on their original deals, and Olshansky and Ayodele made it only two seasons.

The Cowboys signed seven unrestricted free agents in 2012 and three lasted one season (Dan Connor, Nate Livings and Lawrence Vickers) on multi-year deals. Brodney Pool signed a one-year deal and barely made it to training camp.

Three members of the 2012 free-agent class remain: Brandon Carr (five years, $50 million), Mackenzy Bernadeau (four years, $11.5 million) and Kyle Orton (three years, $10.5 million). Carr is coming off a disappointing 2013 season, Bernadeau took a pay cut last week and Orton is not sure he wants to play.

Spending money in free agency is hardly ever the answer. The Cowboys will not have a ton of money available to them when the market opens until the DeMarcus Ware situation is resolved, and even then they will have to be wise with how they spend it and who they spend it on.

The needs are obvious: defense, defense and more defense. That’s what happens when a unit finishes last in the NFL in 2013. But the Cowboys could use a veteran presence at wide receiver (Robert Meachem, Jason Avant) and a backup quarterback if Orton walks away (Shaun Hill).

Finding defensive line help is a must, but the Cowboys will have to be budget conscious. They have had on and off talks with Jordan Woy, who represents free agents Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer, for most of the offseason. Both players could find better financial opportunities elsewhere.

Hatcher turns 32 in July and is coming off a career-high 11 sacks. He was added to the Pro Bowl. Spencer played in only one game in 2013 because of a knee injury that will not be healed enough for him to be 100 percent ready for training camp.

How much of a commitment can the Cowboys make and feel like they will get their money’s worth?

Ties to new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could help in the pursuit of Henry Melton, but he is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Value is often the most overlooked part of free agency. The big-money signings lead to the biggest headlines, but do not correspond enough to wins and losses.

The Cowboys found value in Kosier, Brooking, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bernadeau but did not or have not received enough bang for the buck in Carr ($26.5 million guarantee) and Davis ($18.75 million guaranteed).

As the Cowboys look to clear this 8-8 bump that has turned into Mt. Everest, they need to spend wisely, but more importantly they need to choose wisely.
IRVING, Texas -- With free agency starting in about a week, the Dallas Cowboys still don’t know if Kyle Orton wants to play in 2014.

Orton
At the NFL scouting combine, owner and general manager Jerry Jones assumed Orton would want to play basically because of the money. Orton is set to make $3.25 million in 2014 and Jones wonders how anybody could walk away from that kind of money, especially a backup quarterback. And if Orton does retire, he would have to repay $3 million of the $5 million signing bonus he received in 2012.

Since Jones is assuming, let's go with the assumption that Orton won’t play in 2014. That leaves the Cowboys with a pretty big hole behind Tony Romo, who is coming off a second back surgery in eight months.

With head coach Jason Garrett at the controls of the team's offense since 2007 (initially as offensive coordinator), the Cowboys have invested in their backups to Romo: Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna and Orton have filled the role. Dallas values the backup quarterback position more than other teams in the NFL.

Jones has said that the Cowboys will not look at a quarterback early in the draft, so that rules out the top-shelf prospects. They interviewed Jimmy Garoppolo and David Fales (among others) at the combine, so there’s at least some interest in those two.

But could the Cowboys trust their backup job to a rookie or inexperienced player? History says no.

So who could be available when free agency begins? Options include Matt Cassel, Shaun Hill, Brady Quinn, Charlie Whitehurst, Derek Anderson and David Garrard. Do they do anything for you?

They have started games in the NFL, which is a plus. Some of them have won at different times, if not for long stretches.

One thing to consider: Cassel and Anderson are represented by David Dunn, who also is the agent for Garrett and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan. One more thing to consider: Hill played for Linehan with the Detroit Lions.

Linehan will be bringing in new terminology to the offense. It would make sense to look at a guy like Hill to help with the process because of his experience. Hill is 34, but he has thrown just 12 passes in the past three years behind Matthew Stafford. Hill's career stats include a 13-13 record, 41 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions.

2014 Cowboys free agents: Jon Kitna

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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Jon Kitna
Position: Quarterback
Type: Unrestricted
2013 salary: $940,000

Summary: He joined the Cowboys for the final week of the season after Tony Romo suffered a back injury. He was Kyle Orton’s backup in the season finale mostly because he knew the Cowboys’ offense and was in decent enough shape.

Why keep him: He is a great guy to have in the locker room. Younger players tend to flock to him because of his wisdom and personality.

Why let him go: He is 41 years old. He’s been out of football for most of the last two seasons. It was a neat story for a week, but there’s not a future here.

Best guess: Kitna will return to his life as a high school math teacher and football coach in Tacoma, Wash. If the Cowboys need him again at the end of the 2014 season for a week, he will offer up his services again.

The Cowboys' complex QB issue

February, 10, 2014
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In the last three months, the Cowboys worked out quarterbacks Mike Kafka, David Carr, Tyler Thigpen, John Skelton, Richard Bartel and Caleb Hanie. The Cowboys signed a man they didn't workout in 41-year old Jon Kitna last year because of his familiarly with the offense.

Starting quarterback Tony Romo is recovering from back surgery and while the team expects him to participate in the offseason programs that start April 21, there are no guarantees he will.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo, Kyle Orton
AP Photo/Greg TrottWith Tony Romo's health issues, the Cowboys will need more than just Kyle Orton as a backup quarterback.
As it stands now, the Cowboys have Kyle Orton and Romo on the roster. The Cowboys most likely will have three or maybe four quarterbacks on the roster when it expands to get ready for training camp this summer.

But why has it taken so long to get a quarterback signed?

Orton enters the final year of his contract after proving his worth to the team when he played well for the injured Romo in the regular-season finale, a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

If Romo's health doesn't improve fast enough, it becomes important that the team has a third quarterback. With so many holes on this team, as well as depth issues, it's understandable if the Cowboys are slow in finding a quarterback.

Unless the team signs a Vince Young or a Tim Tebow (which isn't happening), getting a quality No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback should be at the forefront of what's happening at Valley Ranch.

Now maybe the Cowboys don't like what they're seeing in these workouts. Kafka worked out last week and wasn't signed, instead he's going with Tampa Bay.

The Cowboys have two former quarterbacks on the coaching staff in head coach Jason Garrett and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson, who understand what it takes to play well at the position. The Cowboys' offense isn't designed for a mobile quarterback, Romo's ability to avoid the pass rush is an added benefit.

Orton isn't a mobile quarterback but does quite well in the timing-based offense.

What the Cowboys are looking at are drop back passers who have the ability to move around in the pocket if things break down. Not signing one now, doesn't mean it's the end of the world, but after working out six quarterbacks in a three-month span, it makes you wonder what the Cowboys are looking for.

You could say, the draft is where the Cowboys will find the No. 3 quarterback. But you can't depend that Jerry Jones, the general manager, will make that pick given the other issues with the roster. If the Cowboys do draft a quarterback in the middle rounds, and team officials have shot down any first-round pick being used on a quarterback, he could be the future replacement for Romo.

As the offseason progresses, the Cowboys decisions regarding the quarterback position continue to drag on.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:00
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IRVING, Texas -- The second part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter Mailbag is ready for you guys.

If you have questions for next week or beyond, hit me up on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag.

Away we go:
 

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