Football is a bit unique, especially in what drives each of the different products that are released over the course of the year. Rookie cards dictate things almost as much as anything, especially the autographs that they sign for every single product that hits store shelves. The issue isnt that their autographs arent readily available, its that the quality of those signatures seem to be dropping with every new class. Gone are the days where signatures are a source of pride, becoming a more necessary evil of being a celebrity.
Although there have been some great examples of really nice autographs over the last few years, the overall quality of autographs seems to be on the decline. There are some definite cause and effects of having so many autographs that are needed to complete the products. Over the last 10 years, autograph content volume in each set has doubled or even tripled, only more representative of the changing desires of the collecting base.
2015 Nicer Autographs:
2015 Terrible Autographs:
Vernand Morency Memorial Give Up Autograph of the Year:
Because each of the rookies has to sign so many cards – 10,000 and up over the course of the year per company in some cases – its clear that the drop in quality might be a result of necessity more than anything. Now, I am not advocating that autograph content be sidelined, as that would likely do more harm than good. At the same time, its probably as harmful to see players continually decide that their autographs arent going to be a focus. I mean, that shouldnt be a surprise.
To be honest, there might not be much that the card companies can do, as the players hold almost every bit of leverage in the situation. The card companies need the players much more than many of the players need the card companies. With the celebrity of the NFL increasing in an exponential trajectory, the money that a rookie will make is in the millions as long as they are even reasonably good. Making a few extra thousand dollars over the course of a signing isnt exactly what it used to be. Even though the rookie wage scale has dropped the amount of guaranteed money each draft class has available, the money is no chump change, and hasnt been for a long time. That presents a very unique situation, at least as long as the NFLPA remains involved.
Every rookie IS required to attend the Rookie Premiere if invited, and all are required to sign according to their contracts. How much that actually influences a player to sign is dependent on the personality of the player. Of course, with only a SMALL handful of rookies not finishing their cards required, one could say the relationship with the card companies is contingent on the PA being involved. Every so often, you have someone like Julio Jones or Chris Johnson who refuse to sign. There are already rumors of Odell Beckham joining that group, as his redemptions for Panini look to be primed for a long wait.
This is likely going to be a situation that gets worse before it gets better, which is something that doesnt bode well. Hopefully someone turns it around.