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The 10 Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy Football

As Fantasy Football grows hand in hand in popularity with the NFL, it’s important to look back at the history of the game. That history includes some landmark trades which sent shock waves throughout both the NFL and for those of us veteran fantasy owners. The following deals forever altered the landscape of the NFL and the futures of the players involved. Here are the ten greatest NFL trades which impacted fantasy football.

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

As Fantasy Football grows hand in hand in popularity with the NFL, it’s important to look back at the history of the game.  That history includes some landmark trades which sent shock waves throughout the NFL and our fantasy leagues. The following deals forever altered the landscape of the NFL and the futures of the players involved.  Here are the ten greatest NFL trades which impacted fantasy football.

10. (Tie) Beast Mode is Born

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

The Trade: Seattle traded a 4th and 5th round pick to Buffalo for RB Marshawn Lynch.

I wonder if the Bills threw in some skittles to sweeten the deal- no? Nothing? That kills at the local grocery store haha!  Anyway, Lynch had respectable years for the Bills, but his off the field issues in the minds of Buffalo execs were more trouble than he was worth.  While he was not an angel with the Seahawks Lynch became the heart and soul of the team with his violent running style which, in addition to Lynch, also featured a stingy defense.

The addition of mobile QB Russell Wilson and the read-option made for a perfect match helping fantasy owners solidify a weak running back position. Lynch also helped lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl win over Denver.  They would have had another one too except Coach Pete Carroll got too cute and opted to pass from a shotgun formation instead of giving the ball to Lynch when they were at the Patriots one-yard line in the final seconds.  The pass was picked off, and the Patriots ended Seattle’s quest to repeat as champions.

10. (Tie) Jets Trade for Curtis Martin

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

In 1998 the Jets pulled off a stunner.  Led by former Patriots head coach Bill Parcells, The Big Tuna signed one of his favorite players to a massive offer sheet as a restricted free agent.  They forced the Patriots into a tough decision.  New England chose not to match the offer and would regret it.  The Jets gladly parted with a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick for the rights to Martin. There was no love lost between the two franchises as Parcells had long complained about wanting more power in personnel decisions.  He didn’t get mad instead he got even.  Although the Jets didn’t go to a Super Bowl it wasn’t because of anything Martin did.  Martin became the 4th all-time rusher in NFL history. He was a true bell cow back with the ability to run or catch the ball out of the backfield equally well. He was a fantasy football star often taken early in the first round. Even in his later years he provided solid stats.  Martin was not only a great athlete, but a class act off the field, well deserving of his Hall of Fame induction in 2012.

9. Patriots Trade for Gronk

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

GronkIn the 2010 draft, New England traded their 2nd & 6th round picks to Oakland to move up to #42 overall and select TE Rob Gronkowski.  And the Raiders, well they don’t call it the Black Hole for nothing, when it was all said and done they got Gronked by the Patriots.  Gronk took the tight end position to another level.  Remember when fantasy owners thought taking Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez in the 4th round was crazy early- Gronk set the bar even higher by going in the first round in many fantasy drafts which was unheard of for tight ends.

There isn’t a better place he could have gone to maximize his potential than Foxborough.   Combining his talents with a star like Tom Brady presented matchup nightmares for defenses.   He’s too big to cover with a cornerback and too fast to cover with a safety or linebacker. He gives fantasy owners a distinct advantage when they draft him- provided he and Brady are healthy- which unfortunately was not the case this year. Gronk is possibly the greatest tight end to ever play- certainly, the best tight end fantasy football owners have ever seen.  And that’s high praise considering the talent and stats of recent stars like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez.

8. Rams Trade Dickerson in Mega Deal

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

Fantasy Football T-Shirts
Eric Dickerson wasn’t just your average or semi-decent running back- he was electric and one of the greatest running backs of all time. Three of his first four years he rushed for over 1,800 yards. In 1984 he rushed for over 2,100 yards. Yeah, you read that write- that’s not a typo- 2,100 yards! On Halloween in 1987, it was a massive three-team deal that shook the NFL and fantasy football.  The Colts received Dickerson; the Bills received all-pro linebacker Cornelius Bennett from the Colts; the Rams received RB’s Greg Bell, Owen Gill, three 1st round picks and three 2nd round picks. For the most part, none of the picks worked out well for LA.  Greg Bell put up over 2,600 total yards in 1988 and 1989 before being traded to the Raiders.  One of the draft picks Cleveland Gary led the NFL with 14 rushing touchdowns in 1990, but he had only one 1,000 yard season.  The other players were injury prone or busts.

Unfortunately for Dickerson, the Colts weren’t an excellent team back then.  He had a few good years with them but leaving LA hurt his value.  Injuries eventually forced him to retire, but in his prime Eric Dickerson was a home run threat every time he ran the ball.  He’s currently the NFL’s 7th all-time rusher with over 13,000 yards.

The biggest winner in the trade ironically was the team few people think about in the deal- Buffalo.  Cornelius Bennett became a cornerstone defensive piece which would help the Bills go to four Super Bowls.  Even though they fell short, it worked out well for them. Oh yeah the GM for the Bills back then, you might have heard of him, was none other than former Colts and Panthers GM, current ESPN Analyst, and Hall of Fame inductee Bill Polian.

7. Michael Vick for LT & Drew Brees

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

For all of you who are yelling at your computer screens right now saying, “Mark what about Eli for Rivers” – just hear me out. Like I said earlier, when was the last time someone took Rivers or Eli in the 1st round in your fantasy football draft?  Uh huh..yeah.. thought so.

In 2001 Atlanta traded #5 overall pick along with their 3rd round pick, 2nd round pick in 2002, & WR Tim Dwight to go up to #1 overall and select QB Michael Vick.  The Chargers took RB LaDainian Tomlinson at #5 overall and since they still needed a QB drafted Purdue QB Drew Brees in the 2nd round in the same draft. This was a win-win for both teams, but in a vacuum you’ve got to give the edge to the Chargers. Unfortunately for them, they gave up on Brees way too soon to clean up on this one.  Vick had a rocket arm and ran like a gazelle.  He had to- the Falcons offensive line was terrible. Many of Atlanta’s best plays occurred when Michael Vick improvised and played backyard football.

The magic worked and, as many fantasy owners quickly learned, rushing points for QB’s are gold.  Off the field issues with dog fighting forced Vick out of town and into jail.  His career was resurrected in Philadelphia where he rekindled the magic even earning praise from fantasy expert Matthew Berry saying Vick was his #1 overall pick in 2011.  Unfortunately for Matthew and many other owners Vick’s injury history & high draft day price tag/expectations from fantasy owners didn’t pan out, but the logic was there.  Vick was as dynamic a player as there was- both in the NFL and in fantasy football.

As for the Chargers, they landed one the greatest running backs ever in Tomlinson.  LT would go on to become the 5th all-time rusher in NFL history. In 2006 he had over 2,300 total yards and an eye-popping 31 touchdowns!  Think about that for a second. The edge a fantasy owner who drafted LT had that year- the guy had 31 touchdowns and over 2,300 yards at the weakest position to fill in your starting lineup- simply incredible!  Coach Marty Schottenheimer was a coach who loved to run the ball and Tomlinson quickly became the top pick in virtually all fantasy drafts and rightfully so.

The good luck for Tomlinson landing in a running offense was equally as bad or worse for Brees.  He was used sparingly by the conservative Chargers offense.  A significant shoulder injury cast doubt on his future as his contract ended, combined with San Diego already having invested a high draft pick in QB Philip Rivers on the roster, the Chargers parted ways with Brees.  He would latch on to the Saints.  There he set the NFL on fire with Coach Sean Payton and his heavy pass attack. Brees would lead the Saints to their first and only Super Bowl win stunning the heavily favored Colts and New Orleans favorite son Peyton Manning. He would also become one of the most prolific QB’s in NFL history- currently, he’s 3rd with over 64,000 yards.  And it’s all because his shoulder held up and he went to a heavy pass offense. Had he stayed in San Diego and Marty Ball, we might never have seen Drew Brees reach his potential in the NFL and become the fantasy football star he is today.

6. Patriots Trade for Moss

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

In 2007 New England traded a lowly 4th round draft pick for what many NFL scouts and fantasy football pundits thought was a washed up player in WR Randy Moss.

Do you realize the Raiders passed on Calvin Johnson (Megatron), Gronk, and also let Moss go. They could have assembled one of the most powerful offenses in NFL history. All of those blunders were done by a team who believed in throwing the long ball too- Al Davis 101. What the hell man??? Seriously those three would have dominated defenses and might have been even better fantasy stars than we know them as provided the Raiders could have gotten a decent QB and line to protect him.

I still remember hearing the news that people thought he was through and instantly thought they were crazy.  Moss was a favorite of mine- ever since I read about him at Marshall.  I wanted desperately for the Bears to draft him, but off the field concerns scared off many teams, including the idiots I root for, except for the Vikings and yours truly.  Honestly, if the Bears ever make a good draft pick I might go into shock.  How many times have they passed on stars like Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Randy Moss, ugh- but I digress  Let’s see where was I?  Oh yeah, Randy Moss- I took him his rookie year and loved every second seeing him destroy the Packers on Monday Night Football in his breakout game.  Needless to say, I received a few trade offers after that game.  I turned all of them down.  Moss won me many fantasy titles over the years including my first one, in the league where I was introduced to fantasy football.  I’d draft him in the first round virtually every year and every year I’d get mocked for the pick.  That was fine I’d have the last laugh when the playoffs rolled around- then all I heard were crickets haha!  And then he went to Oakland.  The Raiders were a football wasteland.  Actually, they’ve been one for a decade before this season.  They had no offensive line and their quarterback was getting killed behind that line. The chance to leave that hell hole and pair him with Tom Brady and Coach Belichick was a dream scenario and one that surpassed even my wild expectations.  Moss and Brady set records in 2007; Moss had 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns!  Brady had 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns. They almost led the Patriots to a historic perfect season if not for Eli Manning’s incredible escape act and David Tyree’s miraculous catch in the Super Bowl.  Still one of the greatest trades in NFL and fantasy football history and it helped me win another title that year as I got a significant discount on Moss.

5. San Francisco Trades up to Draft the Rice-A-Roni Treat

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

As good as the Patriots were with the Gronk & Moss trades they were as bad if not worse with this one. In 1985 New England traded their #16 overall pick for the 49’ers #28 and #56 overall picks while also agreeing to swap 3rd round spots.

The guy the 49’ers went up to grab turned into the greatest receiver of all time- Jerry Rice. Rice was instantly paired with arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Joe Montana, and then later with another star QB in the name of Steve Young.  And folks when that happens NFL and fantasy football scoreboards light up like Christmas trees.

Despite a slow start Rice eventually found his groove helping the 49’ers become the team of the decade.  He also became a valuable lesson for older fantasy owners who swore by the stud running back theory as the only way to win  Haha! Sweet kids… so innocent, so naïve- gotta love them haha!

They would soon learn that those who passed on the talented wide out for a lesser running back would rue the day they made such a foolish decision.


4. Rams Trade for Marshall Marshall Marshall

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

Some backstory: In 1999 the Rams and the Colts were at it again. Back in 1987 it was the Rams trading the prolific back (Eric Dickerson) to the Colts, this time they were the ones receiving the star runner. The price tag was more affordable as it only cost them a (2nd round pick and a 5th round pick) a bargain compared to what the Colts had to give up to acquire Dickerson. Ironically this might not have even been the biggest deal that year.

In the ensuing draft the Colts were expected to select University of Texas standout, RB Ricky Williams. Instead, they passed on Williams and chose University of Miami RB Edgerrin James.  The Saints then made one of the biggest draft day trades ever by trading every draft pick they owned that year along with a 1st round pick, and 3rd round pick the following year to jump up and select Williams.  Williams ended up being a good back but never fulfilled the promise that many scouts, Saints execs, and fantasy football owners had envisioned. For that reason, he didn’t make the top ten although that trade was legendary and deserves to be mentioned. Anytime Coach Ditka wears a wig with dreadlocks you know it’s a huge deal haha!

Marshall Faulk was dealt because of contract issues.  Colts GM Bill Polian knew they couldn’t afford his salary demands so they traded him to the Rams.  Faulk helped the Rams become one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history known as The Greatest Show on Turf.  He is the NFL’s 11th all-time rusher.  His versatility as a runner and receiver on an explosive offense made him fantasy gold and the overall #1 pick in most drafts.  The Rams Cinderella run culminated in a dramatic Super Bowl win over the Titans.  Their quest for a 2nd title in three years was derailed by the Patriots and a little-known backup quarterback at the time named Tom Brady.

3. San Francisco Trades to be Young at Heart

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

The Trade: In 1987 the 49’ers fleeced Tampa Bay by trading their 2nd round pick and 4th round pick for QB Steve Young.

Young was a star both in college at BYU and in the USFL with the LA Express. His early years in the NFL were not as successful. The Buccaneers were a terrible team, and Young was often running for his life- however, he did get to wear those classic creamsicle colored uniforms with Bucco Bruce as the mascot on the helmet.  Hey you can’t put a price tag on that haha!  In fact, I think the fantasy owners with the worst record should have to wear a Tampa Bay t-shirt with a Bucco Bruce image on it on their next date.  What could go wrong haha! Well… it’s just a suggestion.  Anyway, when Young got to the 49’ers he was the backup and heir apparent to one of, if not, the greatest QB’s of all time, Joe Montana.  Not exactly the easiest shoes to fill.  The pressure was getting to him until he realized he was actually in a great situation after all.  He got to play for a great organization with astute coaches and incredible talent around him which would maximize his potential.  Once he overcame those demons he lit up the league, forming a powerful combination with legend Jerry Rice and becoming a 1st round pick in many fantasy drafts. His culmination came in 1995 when the 49’ers won the Super Bowl over the Chargers and in the process, got the proverbial monkey off his back.  Steve Young is another great player who is truly a class act and great person off the field. Not as great as me mind you, but then again who is? Haha!

2. Packers Roll the Dice on a Third-Stringer Named Favre

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

In 1992 new Packers GM Ron Wolf took a huge gamble and won big. He traded a first-round pick to Atlanta for a young backup QB Brett Favre. Wolf had Favre ranked as the best player in the prior year’s draft (1991) but was not a GM at that time.  The Falcons had seen a different side of Favre; he had health issues (bad hip).  In fact, his hip was so bad he failed his physical with Green Bay.  Favre also liked to drink a few beverages.  It had gotten so problematic, former coach Jerry Glanville felt if Favre didn’t go to a small town like Green Bay he’d be out of the league in three years. Hmnn.. where have we heard that before? Johnny Football?? anybody, anybody??  Manziel?? Manziel??  Bueller?? Bueller?? Frye?? Frye???  After the deal, I bet Glanville and the Falcons execs were the ones hitting the local watering holes over that one. Fortunately for Packers fans and fantasy owners Wolf threw caution to the wind and rolled the dice.  Needless to say, it worked out.  Favre reenergized the Packers glory days by becoming the most prolific passer in NFL history with over 71,000 yards until eventually being passed by Peyton Manning. He was often a first round pick in fantasy drafts and went as high as number one overall a few times as the Packers became one of the most explosive offenses in the 90’s and 2000’s. Somehow, as popular as he was, every guy in my league still managed to misspell his name as Farve- ugh!!  It’s only five letters guys- Favre. He was only like the best QB in the league at the time, but most of them are idiots haha!

1. Dallas Strikes Oil by Trading Herschel Walker

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

Herschel Walker TradeIn 1989 the Vikings wanted to make a move to put them over the top. Dallas was a terrible team looking to rebuild.  They had a new owner in Jerry Jones who fired legendary icon and my favorite coach of all time- Tom Landry.  People in Texas take tremendous pride in their football so if they didn’t get better soon I reckon heads would have rolled.  To speed up the process they dangled the only carrot they had – all pro running back Herschel Walker.  Walker was a star in college at the University of Georgia and also in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals.  It was unfortunate he was stuck on an old, dismal Cowboys team.  Part of the haul of draft picks Dallas received turned into the NFL’s all-time leading running back Emmitt Smith, and defensive all pros’ Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland.  Smith would be part of the Big 3 on Dallas’s offense along with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.  In addition, Emmitt would find a familiar place as the number one overall pick in most fantasy football drafts.  While the 49’ers were the team of the 80’s the Cowboys became the team of the 90’s.  The foundation of their team was built from this trade.

The Vikes also acquired a draft pick which turned into Jake Reed who was a solid, complementary receiver. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, Walker never lived up to the hype in Minnesota and the Vikings never made it to the Super Bowl during his time.  They would get a small measure of revenge in the future on local Texans by drafting Oklahoma Sooners star running back Adrian Peterson who is from Palestine, Texas, but make no mistake this is the gold standard by which deals are judged.

They say they do things bigger and better in Texas- and they sure did with this deal. How bout’ them Cowboys?

Note- with no disrespect to Jimmy Johnson who was a tremendous coach, both in college and the NFL; I still think Jerry Jones was a tool for firing Tom Landry. I don’t care how many titles they won, how posh the new stadium is, or who he hired.  Coach Landry was a class act who deserved better than that.  That said, as lousy as Jones was with Coach Landry at least he kept the cheerleaders.  The Bears don’t even have cheerleaders.  How can you own an NFL team and not have cheerleaders?  I’d settle for them trading all of their draft picks for a few cheerleaders.  Why do I root for them again?  Ugh!


Honorable Mention

Denver gets Elway from Colts

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

As great as John Elway was he wasn’t that great of a fantasy QB.  He was clutch in two-minute drives- Ask the Browns how he did. It’s hard to fathom now, but Cleveland used to be good a long time ago.  Anyway, Denver head coach Dan Reeves was a big believer in running the football. If Elway played in a pass heavy offense with todays’ rules he would have put up video game numbers. Unfortunately, his stats never warranted an early round pick so as a fantasy football impact he didn’t make my top ten.  However, as a NFL trade this one was iconic and an absolute disaster for the Colts when owner Robert Irsay made the deal- vetoing and essentially firing Colts GM Ernie Accorsi in the process (Accorsi was adamant about keeping Elway or at least getting more than that for him to part ways so he could pick Marino).  In addition, they passed on future Hall of fame QB’s and fantasy stars Jim Kelly and Dan Marino in the same 1983 NFL draft. Instead the Colts received all pro offensive lineman Chris Hinton, journeyman QB Mark Hermann, and a #1 pick in the 1984 draft from the Broncos. In one the greatest NFL drafts ever for QB’s, the Colts (an organization known for one of the legends at the position in Johnny Unitas) had the overall #1 pick and when the dust settled didn’t land any of them. Well done guys!  Well done!

Rivers for Eli

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

In 2004 Eli Manning was the coveted pick, but his refusal to play for San Diego forced a trade. NY got Eli, the Chargers got Rivers rated very close to Eli by scouts, a 3rd round pick, along with a 1st round pick in 2005 and a 5th round pick in 2005.  The 1st round pick turned into Shawne Merriman an outstanding outside linebacker.  San Diego almost got Osi Umenyiora instead, but settled on the 1st round pick that landed Merriman.  Umenyiora had 74 sacks in 8 seasons and was a force on the Giants defense.  The draft day deal that sent Philip Rivers for Eli Manning had a big impact on the NFL as Eli had the magic bullet to defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots.  The bad news was he played for a conservative coach in Tom Coughlin most of his career, so his stats aren’t the best in fantasy.  Rivers has had some terrific years stats wise – just imagine if the Chargers ever invested in some good linemen for him he’d have gone berserk on defenses, but he never was a 1st or 2nd round pick in fantasy football either.  For those reasons, they didn’t crack my top ten even though both are tremendous real life players.

Mr. Portis goes to Washington

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

Clinton PortisThe Broncos traded Clinton Portis for Washington shutdown corner Champ Bailey.  If you want to put this one in the top ten I won’t argue- Portis was pretty good.

The problem with the top ten is you only get…well..10 of them.  I sort of cheated and had a tie at the ten spot.  He was one of the NFL’s top running backs for Denver and had some solid years in DC, but as a smaller back he would break down.

Neither player was able to lead their teams to a title, but both had solid careers with Bailey being a star corner in his prime. As good as Portis was he is not ranked in the top 25 all-time rushing leaders in NFL history so for that reason he didn’t make my top ten.

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

The Rams dealt Jerome Bettis and a 3rd round pick to the Steelers for a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick. The Rams selected Nebraska star running back Lawrence Phillips earlier in the draft, but he turned into a bust who had a lot of off the field issues which eventually landed him in prison. Phillips passed away in 2016. Bettis, however, was no bust, in fact his nickname is one letter short of bust- The Bus.  Bettis rushed for 10,571 yards with the Steelers, and totaled 13,662 career yards, which ranks him sixth overall in NFL history. He was inducted in the NFL Hall of Fame in 2015.

His lack of touchdowns and having to work in a RBBC hurt his fantasy stock though, making him a good player instead of a great one for fantasy purposes, although the less wear and tear on his body extended his career. He culminated his amazing career by helping the Steelers win the Super Bowl over Seattle in his hometown (Detroit) in his final game.

Steve Largent Looms Large for Seattle

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

Before there was Beast Mode or The Legion of Boom in Seattle back in 1976 there was a receiver the Seahawks traded an 8th round pick for named Steve Largent.  They got him for a song and in 1988 he became the NFL’s all-time receiving leader- which has since been broken.  Had he stayed with the Houston Oilers he would have been paired with Hall of Fame RB Earl Campbell and later in his career with gunslinger of the run n shoot offense QB Warren Moon so his numbers might have been even higher. I wasn’t playing Fantasy Football at the time so that’s why he’s not in my top ten (Hey I was a kid and it was before the internet cut me some slack here), but Largent was too good not to mention.

Patriots Trade for Coach Bill Belichick

Greatest NFL Trades that Changed Fantasy

In 2000 the Patriots traded the #16 overall selection, a 4th round pick in 2001, and a 7th round pick in 2001 draft to the Jets for the rights to Bill Belichick, a 2001 5th round pick, and a 2002 7th round pick to coach the Patriots. An argument could easily be made that this pick might be #2 or #1 on this list.  In the end, it was a small price to pay for the services of the legendary coach.  His input on player personnel decisions to trade for Gronk, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, to draft Tom Brady, etc. and have such a sustained successful run in a league dominated by parity is unprecedented. The fantasy implications are vast: Brady, Gronk, Moss, Dillon, Blount, Edelman, Welker, Vinatieri, Gostkowski, etc. The hurry up offense has had a ripple effect on the league putting defenses on their heels and lighting up scoreboards and fantasy points making him one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Mark Bonadonna

Mark started playing fantasy football with his friends at college back in 1991. He’s been hooked ever since. He considers himself a veteran player- not an expert. Hey- who let this guy in here? This is Gridiron Experts- security! Just kidding Mark haha! He writes articles to help both rookie and experienced fantasy football players alike- except for his no good friends, Chad and Kelly, who have crushed many of his title dreams throughout the years. His message to them, “Curse your miserable hides you slugs. Find another writer from who to gather your no good research to beat me haha!” He evaluates players by reading scouting reports and by using the eye test from watching game highlights more so than just pure statistics. He believes it’s important to trust your gut instead of being a lemming and blindly following average draft position rankings. His tip, “When preparing for a draft or auction most people only look back, they treat last year’s statistics like the gospel. Last year is over. Things change, teams change. It’s more important to look forward”. When he’s not watching football, you can find him at the gym getting in a workout or grabbing a pizza. You can also find him at his fantasy football website

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