NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tag AFC

Franchise/transition tag descriptions

February, 17, 2014
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Franchise/transition tags: Ravens

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The Baltimore Ravens have used the franchise tag seven times in their 18-year history. If the Ravens tag someone this offseason -- and the window to do so begins Monday -- it'll be tight end Dennis Pitta.

Pitta
The Ravens finished 29th in offense last season and can't afford to let Joe Flacco's security blanket go elsewhere. Pitta is too valuable in the red zone and on third downs to let him hit free agency. At 28, Pitta is reaching the prime of his career. Before the hip injury last season, he set career highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven) in 2012. During the Ravens' Super Bowl run, Pitta had touchdowns in three of the team's four postseason games.

Plus, tight end is the thinnest position on the Ravens' roster right now. Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark are also free agents. The only ones signed are Matt Furstenburg and Nathan Overbay, both of whom were on the practice squad last season.

The question with Pitta is how much would it cost the Ravens to tag him. Pitta could make the case that he deserves to be tagged as a wide receiver ($11.5 million) and not as a tight end ($6.7 million) because he primarily lined up in the slot last season. The best-case scenario is for the Ravens to reach a long-term deal before the March 3 deadline to use the tag. Pitta is expected to command a contract worth $4 million to $5 million per season if he reached free agency. If the Ravens franchise Pitta, they'd have until July 15 to negotiate an extension with him.

There has been speculation that the Ravens may use the tag on offensive tackle Eugene Monroe. This is considered unlikely because Monroe isn't worth the projected $11 million tag, and the Ravens don't feel pressure to use it on him. The Ravens believe they have a good chance to retaining Monroe in free agency. If they can't, the Ravens have other options such as signing Michael Oher to be their left tackle (which won't be a popular decision) or moving Kelechi Osemele from left guard to tackle.

It makes more sense for the Ravens to tag Pitta.

Franchise/transition tags: Bengals

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CINCINNATI -- Franchise tags played key roles in structuring the Cincinnati Bengals' roster the past two offseasons, but it's doubtful they will factor at all during this one.

For the first time since 2012, expect the Bengals to be inactive in the franchise/transition tag process that begins across the NFL on Monday. Teams are now able to begin labeling upcoming unrestricted free agents with the tags in an effort to keep them around while working on signing them to longer term contracts. If they wish, each team is allowed one franchise-tagged player per season and a transition-tagged player.

Franchise-tag contracts are designed to keep a player out of free agency on a season-by-season basis. Since the rate of compensation increases 120 percent each year the player is tagged, it's rare for teams to stretch the franchise-tag status across multiple seasons. The Cowboys and Browns were the last teams to have players with a second-year franchise status, signing players to franchise-tag deals in 2011 and 2012.

If the Bengals wanted to, they could do the same this offseason with 2013 franchise player Michael Johnson. But since the defensive end stands to make more than $13 million as a second-year franchise-tagged player in 2014, it's unlikely they would choose that path. The $13.4 million he would be owed next season would dramatically shrink the money pool the Bengals would have to sign other free agents before hitting the cap limit. According to ESPN's Roster Management System, the Bengals are currently sitting about $15 million shy of the cap limit for 2014.

So it's unlikely Johnson gets re-tagged. If he comes back next season, it would most likely be through a longer-term contract that still could end up paying him an annual salary comparable to what it would be if he were franchise-tagged. With that in mind, as much as the Bengals would like to retain the star lineman they drafted in 2009, it's clear he may be on his way out of Cincinnati.

The Bengals could extend franchise-tag status for the first time to offensive tackle Anthony Collins, but that's another unlikely scenario. Instead of paying the longtime backup nearly $10 million next season, they would be better served negotiating a longer-term deal, or also letting him walk to free cap space. Without Johnson and Collins on the books, the Bengals would be able to better negotiate other deals this year and start getting cash cleared in advance of signing 2015's crop of pricey free agents.

Next year's possible franchise-tag candidates include quarterback Andy Dalton, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, defensive tackle Domata Peko, linebackers James Harrison and Rey Maualuga and kicker Mike Nugent -- Cincinnati's 2012 franchise-tagged player -- among others.

Franchise/transition tags: Jets

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The New York Jets haven't utilized the franchise tag since 2011, when they slapped it on linebacker David Harris. At the time, it wasn't used as negotiating leverage; it was merely insurance, keeping Harris off the market as they worked toward a long-term contract. There was little doubt they'd get it done.

This offseason, they're unlikely to use the tag -- unless it's a Harris-type situation. Their top unrestricted free agents are right tackle Austin Howard and placekicker Nick Folk. The Jets would like to retain both, but the projected cost could be prohibitive. The 2013 franchise-tag amounts for an offensive lineman and kicker were $9.8 million and $3 million, respectively -- and those numbers are projected to increase to $11 million and $3.4 million.

The Jets absolutely want to lock up Howard before he hits the open market, and they will work diligently to get that done by March 11, the start of free agency. If they progress toward a deal but can't quite finalize it by March 3 (the tag deadline), it's possible they could use the tag to buy themselves more time. But $11 million is a huge hit, and it's hard to imagine them extending themselves that much. Ultimately, Howard probably will sign a contract in the neighborhood of $4 million to $5 million per year. He made $2 million last season playing for the restricted tender.

Kicking salaries are soaring around the league (at least nine kickers make at least $3 million a year, according to overthecap.com), and Folk is looking to make a big score. He deserves it after his best season. He made only $780,000 last season on a one-year contract (his fourth straight one-year deal), and he's looking for security. Who can blame him? He was the 24th-highest paid kicker in 2013, according to overthecap.com. Traditionally, the Jets are frugal when it comes to kickers and punters. Folk is a "Folk hero," according to Rex Ryan; we'll see if the bosses are willing to pay him like one. The feeling is that Folk is a more likely tag candidate than Howard.

Franchise/transition tags: Dolphins

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The window has opened Monday for all 32 NFL teams to use the franchise tag on star players. The Miami Dolphins have used the tag two of the past three years, on defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, respectively.

Grimes
Grimes
Will Miami utilize the franchise tag in 2014?

I expect the Dolphins to use the exclusive tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes this year. Miami cannot afford to lose its most consistent defensive player from last season and also one of the few proven corners in its secondary. Perhaps the nonexclusive tag is a possibility, considering no team would want to give up two first-round picks for Grimes. The transition tag would be too dangerous, as other teams could outbid Miami for the star corner.

Grimes was phenomenal in 2013 after signing a one-year contract. He tied for the team lead with four interceptions. But Grimes’ coverage was so consistent that opposing quarterbacks often threw to the weaker corner on the other side.

Grimes also showed he could bounce back 100 percent from Achilles surgery in 2012. He made his second Pro Bowl and even got an interception in that game. I asked Grimes at the end of the season if this was his best year, and he said it was.

The Dolphins have a lot of free agents this year. But Grimes is the only legitimate candidate for the franchise tag. The Dolphins will try to work out a long-term extension with Grimes, but the one-year franchise tag is a major bargaining chip in the team’s favor.

Miami would be wise to tag Grimes if both sides cannot reach an agreement soon. There is flexibility with the tag that still allows both sides to negotiate an extension well into the summer. The worst mistake the Dolphins could make is to let Grimes hit the open market on March 11, when there is a solid chance a bidding war could commence and Grimes might not return.

Franchise/transition tags: Chiefs

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It makes no sense for the Kansas City Chiefs to use the franchise or transition tag on any of their prospective free agents this year. None of those players could be considered essential for the Chiefs next season or beyond. The Chiefs will also be tight to the salary cap and would find it difficult to take on another bloated, one-year salary.

The only potential free agent worthy of the franchise tag is veteran left tackle Branden Albert. He played in 2013 as the franchise player at a one-year salary of almost $10 million, but the Chiefs drafted another tackle, Eric Fisher, with the No. 1 overall pick last year. Fisher started as the right tackle last season and could move over to the left side to replace Albert in 2014. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have in backup Donald Stephenson a player they believe to be good enough to be a starter.

The estimated one-year cost for the Chiefs to retain Albert in 2014 is more than $11 million. Albert, who is a good player, made the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

But he missed five starts in 2012 because of back spasms and four games in 2013 because of a hyperextended knee. He has played in all 16 games for the Chiefs just once, so his durability is a question.

Fisher wasn’t anyone’s idea of a Pro Bowl tackle last season. He struggled as a rookie on a few occasions to the point he probably deserved to be benched. But the Chiefs believe Fisher has Pro Bowl potential. Another year in their weight program should help him progress as a player next season.

Likewise, Stephenson will never be a Pro Bowler, but he is an adequate player who will cost the Chiefs a little more than $750,000 against their cap next season. There’s isn’t more than $10 million worth of difference between Albert and Stephenson.

Franchise/transition tags: Browns

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Franchise-tag possibilities: center Alex Mack, safety T.J. Ward

Transition-tag possibilities: none

Player most likely to be franchised: Ward

Likelihood: 75 percent

Ward
Mack
Mack and Ward have both been productive starters for the Browns since they joined the team, Mack as a first-round pick in 2009, Ward as a second-rounder in 2010.

Neither, though, would be a possibility for the exclusive franchise tag. That would simply be too expensive. (For an explanation of the franchise and transition tags, click here.)

Ward would be a likely candidate for the non-exclusive tag.

That’s because, according to the new collective bargaining agreement, Mack would receive the average salary of the top 10 offensive linemen if he was tagged, not just the top centers. That includes left tackles, which makes tagging Mack a $10 million proposition. A year ago, the franchise-tag cost for an offensive lineman was $9.828 million. That figure will go up this year.

Safety, though, was a relative $6.916 million, a number that will go up this year.

Eight safeties average more than that figure per year, led by Troy Polamalu at $9.867 million and Eric Berry at $8.33 million. The same number (eight) have a higher salary-cap cost than $6.9 million.

Ward is probably among or close to the top 10 safeties in the league. His franchise cost would be in line with what others make. No team would give up two first-round draft picks for Ward, so if the Browns decide the salary cost is palatable, they could apply the tag and keep Ward with the Browns.

As for centers, only five offensive linemen average $10 million or more per season -- including the Browns' Joe Thomas. Only eight have a salary-cap cost of more than $10 million per season.

Mack is a very good player, but he’s not among the league’s top 10 linemen.

Finances would seem to dictate that if any Browns player receives the franchise tag, it will be Ward, and the chances are probably fairly good it happens.

Franchise/transition tags: Broncos

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In each of the previous two years, the Denver Broncos used the franchise tag on an impending free agent they hoped to lock up to a long-term deal but just needed a little more time to cross all the T's and dot all the I's in the contract.

In 2012, it was kicker Matt Prater, who got the tag before he signed a new multiyear deal with the team. Last year it was left tackle Ryan Clady, who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery when the Broncos placed the tag on him.

Clady, who would have earned $9.828 million on that one-year deal had the tag remained in place, eventually worked out a five-year, $52.5 million contract with the team just before training camp.

But don’t look for the Broncos to use either of the tags this time around. Their most prominent free agents -- most notably running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebacker Wesley Woodyard -- have been productive starters with the team, but none are so deep in the team’s plans that the Broncos would use the tags to have them guaranteed of being on the roster next season.

Decker has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, but the franchise-tag salary on a one-year deal at wide receiver was $10.537 million last year and is expected to be slightly higher this time around.

At running back, the franchise tag was $8.219 million last season, and at linebacker, it was $9.619 million.

The Broncos will make offers to most of their impending free agents, but it’s likely all of their more high-profile unrestricted free agents could get better offers, in terms of overall money, elsewhere.

Decker, Moreno, guard Zane Beadles and defensive end Robert Ayers are among the team’s free agents who, next month, will complete deals they signed with the Broncos as rookies. It will be their first opportunity in the open market. Woodyard, who has been a team captain in each of his six seasons with the Broncos, just finished his second contract with the team, while other unrestricted free agents, like Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, linebacker Paris Lenon and defensive end Shaun Phillips, came from elsewhere.

Part of the issue for the Broncos this time around is securing the players who are set to become free agents following the 2014 season, a group that includes wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

Franchise/transition tags: Patriots

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Monday marks the first day NFL teams can use the franchise/transition tag, and cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman are the team's two top free agents.

Would the Patriots consider using the franchise tag on them?

Talib
Talib
A franchise tag on either player would cost approximately $11 million on a one-year deal, making it highly unlikely the team does.

There is one scenario, however, in which a tag wouldn't be completely shocking.

In 2010, the Patriots used the franchise tag on defensive tackle Vince Wilfork as a vehicle to buy more time in negotiations on a long-term extension. At that point, the Patriots and Wilfork had reached the red zone in contract talks and just needed a little more time to push the deal across the goal line.

The Patriots tagged Wilfork to protect their asset, both sides played nice with public statements and a long-term deal eventually got done.

We could envision that type of scenario with Talib. Not so much Edelman.

But, on the whole, we'd call it more of a long shot.

Franchise/transition tags: Steelers

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, usually judicious with the designations that prevent a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent, are unlikely to use a franchise or transition tag for the third year in a row.

Jason Worilds, who had a breakout season in 2013, is the only candidate for a tag, but it looks as though the Steelers will try to re-sign the outside linebacker without the benefit of a safety net.

Worilds
Monday is the first day teams can apply franchise and transition tags on players. For an explanation of tags and their ramifications, click here.

"They're always available to us," general manager Kevin Colbert said last week when asked if the Steelers will tag one of their players, "but I'd say doubtful."

The Steelers' precarious salary-cap situation -- Colbert acknowledged that the team has some "work to do" to get in compliance by March 11 -- is probably the biggest reason tags won't be in play for a third year in a row.

Using a franchise tag on Worilds would require the Steelers to offer the fourth-year veteran a one-year contract that should be at least $10 million (franchise tags for linebackers were $9.62 million last year).

The Steelers have used tags in the past with the goal of later re-signing that player to a long-term deal. They were successful in doing that three years ago with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who received a franchise tag but later signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract.

The problem for a team that has to to get in compliance with the cap by the start of the NFL's new year and have the flexibility to sign their own free agents or others is that once a tagged player signs the one-year contract, the money is guaranteed.

More significant, it counts against the cap, and the Steelers do not have enough flexibility to absorb a $10 million hit -- or one that is not appreciably lower even if a transition tag is used -- without scrambling their finances and compromising their roster.

Worilds, who recorded 8.5 sacks in 2013 and supplanted Woodley at left outside linebacker late in the season, tops the list of Steelers unrestricted free agents the organization will try to re-sign.

The best-case scenario for the Steelers is to lock up Worilds before the free-agent signing period starts March 11. But it also looks as if they are prepared to gamble that they can still get a deal done even if Worilds hits the open market with no provisions for the Steelers to match any offer he receives.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you have one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL, you’re not going to have much use for any of the franchise tags.

That’s the situation the Jaguars are in right now.

The team does have two notable impending free agents -- running back Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback Chad Henne -- and neither will be given the franchise or transitional tag on Monday, the first day that teams can use those designations.

Jones-Drew
General manager David Caldwell has said several times that Jones-Drew has earned the right to test the market though he’s interested in re-signing the running back. By letting him test the market, Caldwell is risking Jones-Drew not giving the Jaguars a chance to match any offer.

Jones-Drew is after the kind of money that Steven Jackson (three years, $12 million, $4 million guaranteed), Reggie Bush (four years, $16 million, $4 million signing bonus) and Shonn Greene (three years, $10 million, $5 million guaranteed) got when they signed free-agent contracts in 2013.

In each case, the teams overpaid for backs past the midpoint of their careers, but teams usually do overpay for players during free agency. Jones-Drew is at the same point in his career. He’ll be 29 in March and he has significant wear and tear on his body: 2,233 touches (rushes, receptions, kick and punt returns) in eight seasons.

In watching him this past season, he clearly did not look similar to the player who led the NFL in rushing in 2011. He wasn’t as explosive through the hole and wasn’t able to get to the edge and turn the corner as well as he has in the past.

There’s no reason for the Jaguars to use even the transitional tag on Jones-Drew. If he doesn’t re-sign -- and he said at the end of the season it was about the money -- the Jaguars will move forward with Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, a draft pick or two, and possibly a mid-level free-agent signing of their own.

As far as Henne, Caldwell said he expects to reach out to Henne’s representatives soon to try to work out an extension before Henne’s contract expires in March. It would be ludicrous for the Jaguars to use a franchise tag on Henne because he would have to be paid a salary that averages to the top five (exclusive or non-exclusive tag) or the top 10 (transitional tag) paid QBs in the league.

Franchise/transition tags: Raiders

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The franchise tag, when it comes to the Oakland Raiders, is more of a nuclear option. Sure, general manager Reggie McKenzie carries the "football" around with him, and he's glad to know it's at his disposal, so to speak.

But McKenzie, who will never be confused with Dr. Strangelove, would much rather stay away from it and stick to the bargaining table. Especially with the window for teams to begin slapping the tag on their players beginning today and ending March 3. Free agency begins March 11.

"It's always a possibility, yeah, but I don't like to really go there as my option," McKenzie said last month. "I would like to negotiate a deal. But the franchise, the transition, those tags, the franchise tag is just one of those deals that is made available for you. You don't want to use that as, this is our [only] option. Hopefully we wouldn't need to."

For one thing, it's expensive. For another, the use of it, while making a player very rich for one year, also runs the risk of alienating said player.

Which is why the most likely Raiders player to be so designated, left tackle Jared Veldheer, has already made his objection to such a prospect known -- even if the franchise tag number for an offensive lineman is sure to rise from the $9.828 million of 2013.

"From that [payday] aspect of it, it's definitely an awesome deal," Veldheer told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game earlier this month. "It would just be nice to have more security in being a Raider for longer than just one year. This is a place that I want to be at for the rest of my career if I could."

The 6-foot-8, 322-pound Veldheer was the Raiders' third-round draft pick in 2010 out of Hillsdale College. He was limited to five games last season after undergoing surgery on his left triceps in training camp, though he looked strong when he returned.

"It's tough when that kind of stuff happens because ... [a one-year tag] goes against everything that's been said about [me], 'We want to make you a cornerstone of the team, build around you,'" Veldheer said. "It doesn't really back up any words with the right action."

The Raiders' only other true franchise tag candidate would seem to be defensive end Lamarr Houston. And that seems just as unlikely.

Franchise/transition tags: Texans

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A long-term deal is almost always the better option for a player than being placed under the franchise tag. Sometimes it's also better for a team, many of which use it as a last resort.

That's how the Texans have viewed the designation of late. The franchise and lesser used transition tags offer tighter deadlines and windows which don't jive with the way Houston has done business.

Typically, the Texans re-sign players they want to keep the year before their contracts expire, a process spearheaded by general manager Rick Smith and vice president of football administration Chris Olsen. The players they can't reach deals with are sometimes ones they're willing to let go in free agency, as was the case with Connor Barwin and Glover Quin last offseason.

A franchise tag allows a team to restrict the movement of one pending free agent. Today the window for applying it and a transition tag, which is a similar concept but less restrictive, begins.

Tagging a player puts his next year's salary among the top five to 10 at his position. The top Houston players hitting free agency this year are nose tackle Earl Mitchell, defensive end Antonio Smith (one of the highest tag numbers), offensive guard Wade Smith and running back Ben Tate.

Of those, Mitchell and Tate are most likely gone. Tate will cost more than the Texans will be willing to pay for him and Mitchell's skill set is better suited for a 4-3 defense.

As for Smith and Smith, the more veteran of the group, I wouldn't be surprised if they returned in some capacity, but I would be very surprised if the Texans franchised either of them.

Antonio Smith made $6 million last year and had a salary-cap number of $9.5 million. His franchise number would be $12.475 million according to a projection by CBSSports.com. Wade Smith made $3 million last year and had a cap number of $3.75 million, but his franchise number, raised by left tackle salaries, is projected to be $11.126 million.

Franchise/transition tags: Titans

February, 17, 2014
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As good as Alterraun Verner was in 2013, it’s hard to imagine the Titans would view him as being worth the salary that will be tied to the franchise or transition tags for a cornerback.

Monday is the start of the window during which the teams can apply tags to pending free agents. Each team can use only one.

Verner
Verner had a cap number of $1.454 million in 2013, the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.

Last year, the franchise-tag number for cornerbacks was $10.854 million, and the transition tag was $9.095 million.

A franchise tag means the player gets that salary guaranteed for one season. If another team signs him to an offer sheet and his current team doesn’t match it, his original team gets two first-round picks as compensation. That’s an exorbitant price.

A transition tag means the player gets that salary guaranteed for one season. If another team signs him to an offer sheet and his current team doesn’t match it, there is no compensation involved.

Verner was very productive in 2013, with five interceptions -- including one returned for a touchdown -- as well as 26 passes defensed and the eighth-most tackles on the team (73).

He’s got a knack for the ball and a great feel for where it will be heading, but he doesn’t have the speed or the size (he’s 5-foot-10, 186 pounds) teams expect from a top cornerback who’s getting top price.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean recently reported there has been minimal movement between Verner and the Titans. The two sides are expected to talk at the scouting combine in Indianapolis later this week.

I think the Titans value Verner and will make a fair offer.

But come March 11 and the start of free agency, I expect at least one other team will value him more and the Titans will be turning to Coty Sensabaugh or Blidi Wreh-Wilson as their No. 2 cornerback.

Franchise/transition tags: Colts

February, 17, 2014
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NFL teams can begin franchise tagging players on Monday. Only eight players received the franchise tag from their teams last year. Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee was one of those eight players. The Colts used the franchise tag to pay him $2.977 million last season.

Bethea
Davis
Cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Antoine Bethea are two players the Colts could potentially use their tag on this year.

I’d say it’s a long shot, though, based on the amount of money paid out to cornerbacks and safeties by teams using the franchise tag last season.

The franchise-tag number for cornerbacks last season was $10.8 million; it was $6.9 million for safeties.

Davis has the talent to become one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but he didn’t show enough last season to make a jump from the $1.86 million he made to likely more than $10 million once the tag numbers for 2014 are set.

The tag number for safeties might hover around the $7 million mark again, and if that’s the case, it would be only a slight increase in pay for Bethea, who made $5.75 million last season.

Putting the franchise tag on Bethea would hurt him because he’ll be 30 years old in July, and there might not be too many more opportunities for him to sign a multiyear contract.

"It’s my first time really testing the market, so [I am] kind of excited," Bethea said in January. "Want to finish my career here, but if not, hey, got to go on and start a new chapter in my career."

Here is an explanation of the franchise-tag guidelines.

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