NFL Nation: Phil Dawson

Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.

Browns' new idea a real dog

July, 14, 2014
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video
The news that the Cleveland Browns may well have a bullmastiff on the sideline as a mascot this season takes me back to one of my favorite quotes from the post-1999 era.

It happened after the 2002 season. Butch Davis was the Browns' coach, and one of his rules was that players could not leave the team hotel during road trips. Safety Earl Little weighed in that he thought players should be allowed a few hours to go out to dinner or see family. It was not an unreasonable request; most teams allow players some free time on the road.

Kicker Phil Dawson was asked whether he thought the road rules should be changed.

His response was epic.

The only thing he wanted to see changed was more wins. Dawson said he was at the point where he'd practice naked if it meant more wins for the Browns.

Not a pleasant image, but the point was clear then and remains so today.

The thing the Cleveland Browns need to do is win. The rest is a sideshow.

Some of it is an enjoyable sideshow because it’s intrinsic to the game. The team's efforts to upgrade a stadium that needed improvements is an example, and it's commendable. Fans will enjoy the game more with the improvements, especially during the seemingly never-ending TV timeouts.

But the fans' true enjoyment comes from the way the team plays. In the Browns' first game back in 1999, they had fireworks, planes and Drew Carey -- then got demolished by the Steelers. They once had the G.E. Smith Band -- a group that used to play on "Saturday Night Live" -- tucked into a cubbyhole on the sideline. They now have dog races at halftime and a drum corps.

None of it has helped them win.

Now a bullmastiff named Swagger (not named by the team) may be on the sideline and lead the Browns out of the tunnel before games.

The one thing that must be said about this is if it doesn't help them win, the animal is irrelevant. The Browns could follow an ostrich onto the field. A Komodo dragon, a kangaroo, a penguin, a Burmese python -- all wearing a Browns scarf or something. Have at it if it means a win. Pack the stadium with thousands of bullmastiffs.

Practice naked or in tutus. At this point, whatever is done doesn't matter -- provided, as Dawson said, it means more wins.

49ers offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the San Francisco 49ers' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe 49ers added depth to their receiving corps by acquiring Stevie Johnson.
Best move: Making offense a priority. The 49ers' re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin and kicker Phil Dawson in a free agency in which they signed only two outside veterans. During the draft, they added veteran receiver Stevie Johnson in a trade with the Buffalo Bills, then drafted a tumbling Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the second round. This offense now has a lot of firepower. These moves really solidified the unit.

Riskiest move: Change in the secondary. The 49ers will have three new starters in the secondary after seeing safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown leave in free agency and after cutting Carlos Rogers. Whitner was the only one the 49ers had interest in keeping, but he was too pricey. The 49ers made a nice move of bringing in a comparable player -- safety Antoine Bethea from the Colts. Chris Culliver, who was injured in 2013, and first-round pick Jimmie Ward will play in the nickel. I think these changes should work well, especially since the meat of the 49ers' defense is the front seven. But when there are such wholesale changes, it's a question mark.

Most surprising move: Making 12 draft picks. The 49ers entered the draft with 11 picks, but with few needs. Yet the 49ers ended up with 12, which was tied for most in the NFL. I don't think more than seven or eight of the draft picks have a chance to make this stacked roster. Of course, the 49ers took a few injured players to stash, which only helps the entire program. It's difficult to imagine a deeper team than San Francisco in the league.

Receiver depth: I cannot emphasize this enough -- it's stunning how much depth the 49ers now have at receiver when compared to last season. With Michael Crabtree hurt for much of the year, the 49ers received virtually no production from the position other than from Boldin. Now, the 49ers are loaded at with Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson, second-year player Quinton Patton (who missed much of the season with a broken foot) and speedy fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington. This is the biggest difference on the team.
The San Francisco 49ers’ second veteran free-agent re-signing was another 2013 acquisition who shined.

Kicker Phil Dawson tweeted Tuesday he is returning to the 49ers. He was minutes from becoming a free agent. Dawson joins receiver Anquan Boldin, who signed last week, as key veterans who are coming back.

Dawson
The 49ers traded for Boldin and signed Dawson last year. Both were smashing successes in San Francisco.

Dawson, 39, made a team-record 27 straight field goals during the regular season. He also made several in critical situations and was a fit in the locker room.

Dawson was always coming back. Both sides wanted to make it happen. In fact, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said "pay the man" when referring to Dawson's impending free agency in a news conference.

The front office listened, and the 49ers will continue to have reliability at the kicker position.

The team’s other two free-agent priorities are safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown. There have been reports that Whitner will sign with his hometown Cleveland Browns when free agency starts at 4 p.m. ET. Brown will also get interest.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com offers a tidy, thumbnail plan for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency.

Below is Barnwell’s plan and my thoughts on it:

Estimated Cap Space: $10,021,111

Likely Cuts: CB Carlos Rogers

Who They Should Keep: CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson

Rogers
Rodgers-Cromartie
Who They Should Sign: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Asante Samuel, S Louis Delmas

Did you know the largest cap hit on the 2014 San Francisco 49ers belongs to, of all people, Rogers? The 49ers would clear $5 million off their cap by releasing Rogers, a move likely to occur despite San Francisco’s relative lack of depth in the secondary. Signing the younger, more talented Rodgers-Cromartie makes more sense, with Samuel filling in as depth and Delmas replacing the departing Donte Whitner. The Niners are sufficiently deep elsewhere to stay out of free agency, although they will certainly sneak in after a couple of weeks if they see a bargain lurking unsigned.

My take: What sticks out to me is the Rodgers-Cromartie thought. If the 49ers can get him, they should jump at it. He would be an upgrade and a fine fit for the defense. But I think he could get a big deal somewhere. I think Whitner is a better player than Delmas, and the 49ers should concentrate on keeping him. But if Whitner’s market is too high, then Delmas could be a solid replacement.

Free-agency primer: 49ers

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: S Donte Whitner, CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson

Where they stand: The 49ers are already off to a productive start to free agency. They re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin to a team-friendly two-year, $12 million extension earlier this week. Boldin was the team's top free-agency priority. No matter what happens once free agency starts Tuesday, the 49ers already accomplished Task 1. But that doesn't mean their work is over. The 49ers love their roster and they want to keep their talent. Whitner, Brown and Dawson are all players the 49ers want back.

What to expect: The 49ers have been in contact with all of their top priorities. But it won't be a surprise if they have to wait out Whitner, Brown and Dawson. All three may want to test the market. I wouldn't be surprised if both Brown and Whitner get heavy interest, but the 49ers may be willing to do what it takes to keep both, within reason. Dawson may be easier to get done. If Whitner and/or Brown leave, the 49ers may have to dip into the outside free-agent market. I think that's the only way the 49ers become big players in the outside market. They may sign a few pieces here and there, but for the most part the 49ers like their roster and want to keep it in place as much as possible.
The NFL deadline for teams to place the franchise tag on players expired Monday without the San Francisco 49ers applying it.

That’s no surprise. It would have been a surprise if the 49ers did apply the tag.

The team’s top free-agent priorities, after re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin on Monday, are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown. It simply did not make any financial sense to tag any of these players. Still, the 49ers want these players back and will continue to work toward deals with them before free agency starts on March 11.

Next year, perhaps, will be a different story. They have big-name free agents looming in the form of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, pass-rusher Aldon Smith and receiver Michael Crabtree. All three are priorities. Kaepernick could get a new deal this offseason. However it shakes out, I could see one of these players getting tagged this time next year.

49ers contract status update

February, 28, 2014
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Free agency starts in 11 days. Along with every other team, the San Francisco 49ers are putting together their final plans. The 49ers are in pretty nice shape. They are poised to be $15-16 million under the salary cap.

The team has gained cap room by reducing deals for backup safety Craig Dahl and backup receiver Jon Baldwin. They want cornerback Carlos Rogers back at a much reduced salary from the $6 million he is due. If he doesn't accept a pay cut, he will likely be cut. General manager Trent Baalke has said he doesn't think the team needs to reduce the salary of running back Frank Gore, who is set to make $6.4 million.

The deadline giving a player the franchise tag is Monday. The 49ers are not expected to use the tag. They have been close to a deal with receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin, 33, is likely looking at a two- or three-year deal. He could be paid up to $17 million if it is a three-year deal. The team's other priority free agents are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

The 49ers extended the deal of Daniel Kilgore on Thursday. He was set to be a free agent next year. That means he is in line to start next year and that the 49ers likely won't re-sign Jonathan Goodwin, who started at center the past three years.

The team is not expected to give the restricted free-agent tender to backup defensive lineman DeMarcus Dobbs and cornerback Perrish Cox. That would make them unrestricted free agents.
Echoing what coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Thursday and keeping to the mantra of the organization, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke predictably had this message when speaking to the media Friday: the team’s free-agent plan will be to keep its own.

“Our No. 1 objective is to keep our own guys,” Baalke said.

Whitner
The 49ers' top priorities in the coming weeks (free agency starts March 11) are to re-sign receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson, and perhaps cornerback Tarell Brown. Whitner might be the most difficult to sign. If I had to guess, I’d say Boldin has the best chance of being signed before free agency.

In other topics Baalke addressed:
  • Baalke praised running back Frank Gore for another productive season in 2013 and told reporters the 49ers don’t necessarily have to approach Gore to take a pay cut. He is to make $6.4 million this season.
  • Baalke said he expects Michael Wilhoite and second-year player Nick Moody to fill in for linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the first half of the season as Bowman recovers from torn ACL. Baalke also indicated the team could bring in some competition. He said Bowman will not be rushed.
  • As he did in October, Baalke said the team has no intentions of trading running back/kick returner LaMicheal James. Baalke said he believes James, a second-round pick in 2012, will get more opportunities to run the ball moving forward.
  • Baalke said pass-rushing star Aldon Smith is going well and said the team has “a great support system for him." Smith missed five games in 2013 when he voluntarily entered a substance abuse center. He finished the season strong.
  • Baalke spoke glowingly of 2013 fourth-round pick Quinton Patton. The receiver finished the season strong after missing 10 games with a broken foot. Patton impressed the team with his zeal for the game.

49ers combine primer

February, 19, 2014
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The NFL scouing combine is underway and lasts until early next week in Indianapolis. Let's take a look at what the San Francisco 49ers' front office staff, coaches and scouts will be doing as they watch drills and interview prospects in preparation for the May 8-10 draft.

First-round pick: No. 30.

Total picks: The 49ers have 11 picks, but are expected to get either a third or fourth-round compensatory pick. They are usually allotted in Mach.

Top needs: The 49ers want to add a play-making receiver to deepen the team's aerial weaponry. Developing a young cornerback is also key for this deep roster. 49ers have ammo to move up in draft as they did last year.

Players they could scout in first-round: Receivers Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Marqise Lee (USC), Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State), Allen Robinson (Penn State), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State); cornerbacks: Jason Verrett (TCU), Bradley Roby (Ohio State).

Other business: Teams often talk to their own free agents at the combine to get a feel for the market and try to finalize deals before free agency. It begins March 11.The 49ers priority free agents include receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kick Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

Media time: Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke are expected to meet with the media in the next couple of days.

49ers well positioned to improve

February, 18, 2014
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One of the unique things about the San Francisco 49ers is that not only have they become one of the NFL’s elite teams but they are also well positioned to remain atop the league.

The 49ers -- who have been to the NFC title game the past three seasons -- are fantastic health as a franchise. They are young, they have managed the salary cap well and they are looking at having 12 draft picks in May, so there is plenty of ways the 49ers can improve.

In fact, in an Insider piece, ESPN's Mike Sando believes the 49ers are positioned to improve more than any team in the NFL this offseason. Insider That’s pretty scary considering they are coming off a 12-4 season.

Here are some of Sando’s thoughts:
"The 49ers have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, even though nine of their league-high 16 Pro Bowl players are either specialist, players headed toward free agency, potential cap casualties or coming off injury. Most of the team's best players remain under contract for at least another season. Re-signing receiver Anquan Boldin is realistic but not essential now that Michael Crabtree is healthy. Keeping strong safety Donte Whitner might be tougher from a cost standpoint. ... Having additional choices in the second and third rounds gives San Francisco flexibility. Last year, the team parlayed a similar situation into a quick move up the draft board for safety Eric Reid. I wouldn't be surprised to see San Francisco strike similarly for a cornerback this year."


I agree with Sando that this team has a chance to get better. I don’t expect any earth-shattering veteran acquisitions. I think the 49ers want to keep their own priority free agents in the form of Boldin, Whitner and kicker Phil Dawson.

I think the real noise San Francisco can make is in the draft. I can see the 49ers making a big move up to grab a top-rated receiver or defensive back. This is a team with few needs. I can’t see more than five or six draft picks among the 53-man roster. So, adding an instant impact player could make this team even more dangerous in 2014.

Franchise/transition tags: 49ers

February, 17, 2014
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Monday opens the window in which NFL teams can apply the franchise tag to players.

It appears unlikely the San Francisco 49ers will give out any significant tag to a pending free agent. Yes, the 49ers have priority free agents, but there are no natural fits for any of them to be franchised.

Whitner
Boldin
The priority free agents are receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

The team definitely wants Boldin, who had one of his best NFL seasons in his only year in San Francisco, to return. He was a vital part of the offense. However, Boldin is 33 and probably has one short-term deal left in his career. There is no chance it will make fiscal sense to give Boldin a one-year franchise tag. He will probably command $5-7 million a season, well short of the receiver franchise tag number.

Brown is not considered a top-flight cornerback and the franchise tag is reserved for the elite at the position.

The franchise tag numbers for safeties will likely be in the $7-8 million range. Whitner signed a three-year, $11.5 million deal in 2011. He is a key part of the defense and the 49ers need him back. If they sense the safety market will be robust, they could decide to use the franchise tag on Whitner. But I'm not sure the market will go that high. I wouldn't say Whitner getting the franchise tag is impossible, but it would be a surprise.

Dawson could have been a candidate to be franchised, but tagging him as such is virtually impossible. Two years ago, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees filed a grievance that spurred the ruling that a player receive a major pay raise when he is franchised for the third time. Dawson was franchised twice by the Browns. Thus, his pay for 2014 will be at the rate of a quarterback if the 49ers use the franchise tag on him. That will not happen.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season, SI.com’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.

What should top FAs expect?

February, 12, 2014
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The San Francisco 49ers' top three free agents are receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner and kicker Phil Dawson. Let's look at some 2013 deals that may serve as comparison points for each player in free agency.

Boldin

Comparable deal: Wes Welker's two-year, $12 million deal that includes $6 million in guaranteed money with Denver.

Thoughts: Boldin made $6 million last season. While he had one of his best NFL seasons in 2013, Boldin is 33 and he won't command a huge deal. I'm not sure he can get quite the deal that Welker got, but he may be in the range.

Whitner

Comparable deal: Glover Quin's five-year, $23.5 million deal with 5.25 in guaranteed money with Detroit.

Thoughts: The defensive backs market could fluctuate. Last year, some free agents scored and others didn't. I wouldn't be shocked if Whitner is among those who command a nice deal. In fact, I could see him getting more than Quin does. If so, the 49ers may be hard pressed to keep him.

Dawson

Comparable deal: Dawson's one-year $2.350 million with $1 million in guaranteed money with the 49ers.

Thoughts: Dawson is 39 and he had a great season with the 49ers. They want him back and he wants to be back. I could see him back with a modest raise.

Early 49ers free-agent primer

January, 27, 2014
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Let's take an early offseason look at the San Francisco's 49ers' pending unrestricted free agents:
    Boldin
  • WR Anquan Boldin: He is vital. He is 33, so he may not get much interest. The 49ers might be his best fit.

    Percentage of return: 75
  • CB Tarell Brown: The cornerback market was started last year and many starting-quality cornerbacks had to settle for less than they probably wanted. If that happens again, it could lead Brown back to the 49ers.

    Percentage of return: 55
  • K Phil Dawson: The 49ers love Dawson and he loves them. There is no reason for him not to return.

    Percentage of return: 90
  • RB Anthony Dixon: Dixon is versatile and he fills a lot of roles. But that could make him attractive to other teams.

    Percentage of return: 30
  • OL Jonathan Goodwin: He is 35. He is thinking about retirement, but he would also be willing to return if the 49ers wanted him back for another year or so.

    Percentage of return: 45
  • WR Mario Manningham: The oft-injured receiver is likely not be on the 49ers' radar.

    Percentage of return: 5
  • QB Colt McCoy: The 49ers will likely look for an upgrade but could always circle back to McCoy.

    Percentage of return: 25
  • WR Kassim Osgood: A special teams star. I'm sure the 49ers would like him back.

    Percentage of return: 60
  • Whitner
  • S Donte Whitner: This is a tough one. The 49ers need him, but if he gets pricey it may be difficult for them to keep him.

    Percentage of return: 60
  • CB Eric Wright: The 49ers had high hopes for Wright, but the team didn't seem to trust him. He finished the season on the inactive list.

    Percentage of return: 10

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