Johnny Manziel Gets the Start – Good News or Bad News?

Love him or hate him, Johnny Manziel is this year’s top rookie. His cards continually sell above many of the other rookies, and that wont change for now. He has even crossed over to Baseball, where Topps released an autographed card commemorating his draft status by the Padres in the 2014 Amateur Draft. His fame and his celebrity status have dictated some big numbers this year, and though I am not a fan at all, I can appreciate his importance.

His cards have come up considerably since he was named starter:

2014 Bowman Sterling Johnny Manziel Auto Blue Wave Refractor

2014 Topps Chrome Johnny Manziel Auto Inscription RC

2014 SPX Johnny Manziel Auto Patch Blue with Inscription

2014 Finest Johnny Manziel Auto Refractor RC

The unfortunate part is that because the Browns have played as well as they have to this point, Manziel has spent the season on the bench. This has led to speculation, deep probes into off the field situations that have come up, and a dip in his hobby value. As of yesterday, he became the starting QB for the Browns, and allowed many collectors to jump back on the bandwagon. The question is whether or not this is good news or bad news.

Good News

The good news is that we get to see what he has, all in the chase for a playoff spot in the AFC. If Manziel comes in, leads the Browns to the promised land, and plays well along the way? Huge money, a la Tim Tebow back in 2010. With the biggest releases of the year still to come, as this time of year is a very big deal for the hobby. Like I said above, love him or hate him, 2014 almost hinges on his success. Although the WR class has done very well without his services, they dont sell like QBs sell.

If Manziel can light it up (figuratively, haha), 2014 will become a pretty damn good year for cards as we close things out. It might negate the rough start many products have had as a result.

Bad News

The bad news is the same as the good news in some respects, as we will get to see exactly what he has (again, a la Tim Tebow). Manziel had a lot of questions about his ability to compete at the NFL level, leading to Blake Bortles being drafted ahead of him. He is undersized, erratic, and has already displayed some issues with composure on the sidelines. One could easily argue he hasnt fared well under the scrutiny that comes with his position, and collectors have caught on.

If Manziel stinks, which is a big possibility, the 2014 high end products that he will be featured in will take a hit. Being that they are already feeling the effects of Manziel’s time on the bench, that is not a good situation.

Dont get me wrong, three games is not a big sample size, and no FINAL decisions should be made based on this timeframe. On the other hand, we know how collectors are.

What is Contenders Football’s Legacy Today?

Legacy is a strong word in the hobby, and Contenders is definitely one of the products that has managed to secure a pretty strong one. However, Im not sure its been the most deserving of said legacy, with many years of the product’s concept and design being very below what we have seen from other sets released. This includes the ones released by Panini themselves. Its puzzling for me in that respect, how so much of Contenders is about what is in the set, not what is ON THE CARDS.

Here are some of the worst of the worst Contenders designs, and this is only a handful:

2003 Contenders Tony Romo Auto Ticket BGS 9.5 – Giant foil stickers with huge text “Rookie” 5 times on the card, Yay!

2008 Contenders Joe Flacco Auto Ticket BGS 9.5 – Only Panini knows why the word “Rookie” needed to be displayed in huge text over the player.

2009 Contenders Matthew Stafford Auto Ticket – Text keeps getting bigger for some reason. At least on card, but who cares at this point?

2011 Contenders DeMarco Murray Rookie Ticket Auto – This is honestly the worst Contenders design of the run. Horrible presentation.

There are some good ones, but not enough to redeem our infatuation:

2010 Contenders Dez Bryant Auto Ticket BGS 9.5 – Even though it was almost ruined by the stupid foilboard, the design itself is awesome.

1998 Contenders Randy Moss Rookie Ticket Auto – this one is the best of all time, hands down.

2013 Contenders Eddie Lacy Rookie Ticket Auto – Terrible class, but much better design

One of the main reasons that I have loved Chrome as much as I have is because it rarely disappoints in the way of how the cards look. With the exception of a few years, the product has exceeded the legacy even that set has cultivated within the hobby. Even in a year like 2014, when the product is so overproduced that no one can pull anything out of any box, it is still delivers highly coveted cards.

With Contenders, it seems to accomplish some of what Chrome does DESPITE design work that I find to be even the slightest bit visually appealing. Funnier still, the year of the product that everyone points to as the best in recent memory is actually a retro design from 1998. The cards that Panini was responsible for turned out to be just as horrendous as many of the other years they put together.

You would expect that a product, responsible for some of the worst looking cards of the modern era, would never be able to stand the test of time. Instead it remains one of Panini’s best selling sets. That is what I dont get. If a product never seems to measure up in the design department, and the cards arent up to par in many ways, why is it so popular on a continual basis?

One cannot deny that the Peyton Manning Rookie Ticket and the Tom Brady Rookie Ticket represent two of the more iconic modern football cards in existence. Brady even more represents Contenders’ approach as a late round pick getting love on an expansive checklist. That being said, I have yet to see any card outside of those two that really looks all that great, as long as you include Luck as an extension of the 1998 layout from the iconic Manning.

This year’s set, as previewed again today, is very much in the same vein as many of the other Contenders sets of years past. Horribly ugly rainbow and regular foil stock, terrible design work with huge text and separated areas for the signature, and a clear representation that Contenders does not represent the best of the best Panini products.

As I mentioned in a post when the preview was first released, the design for the Rookie Ink set is FAAAAAAAAR superior to the ticket design for 2014, even to the point where Im curious if someone messed up. The Rookie Ink IS ACTUALLY demonstrative of the ticket motif used in previous sets, right down to the faux perforation at the bottom of the “ticket” area. I dont get it one single bit.

Most importantly of all of this consideration is that this will be the only game in town come 2016. Because it is abundantly clear that the NFL cares more about the money that Panini can provide, I would guess this stuff will continue to not make one bit of difference to anyone in a decision making position. I have gotten multiple reports that Panini does not foster an environment that would allow for collector feedback to be incorporated into the set design, so I DO NOT expect this style to change. Panini has their way of doing things, so get on the train or watch it leave. That means the unsustainable nature of the sports card business in football will continue to spiral out of control. Not just because of poor skills of Panini’s design team, but because they have shown time and time again that they are unable and unwilling to adapt.

Collectors will continue to buy Contenders in the shadow of Manning and Brady, but may never again get to experience a great looking card that we deserve.

2014 Chrome FB’s Overproduction Creating Huge Issues In the Market

As I have mentioned before, Chrome is one of my favorite sets of the year by far. I love the look of the cards, the design, and of course, the on card autographs. In the past, Chrome has consistently delivered the highest valued chase cards of the year, mainly because of how much prestige the Superfractor maintains within the hobby. That doesnt mean the product isnt without SIGNFICANT issues this year. Here are some of the worst of the worst.

Print Run

In the past, Topps has determined the print run for Chrome (and many other sets) according to the volume of pre-orders received from many different parties. This year was one of the first years where that apparently did not happen. As a result, this is easily the highest volume run of Chrome ever printed, and that’s putting it lightly. If you remember back to 2012, the run was higher too. As a result, there were similar issues, but the quality of the class helped mask them.

People on message boards have estimated that there are THOUSANDS of cases printed above the normal run, and not all of them are sold yet. That means that the box price is going to plummet as it heads to close out, making it more difficult to get out of this product what you put in.

Ripples of Said Print Run

Because the print run is so ridiculously high, that means there needs to be more cards printed to fulfill it. More base cards, more refractors, and of course more autographs. You would think that adding more cards to the run would be a win, but it just makes the serially numbered cards that much more difficult to pull.

It also means that the better autographs of the better players are close to impossible, even though the number of cards they signed is comparable to previous years, if not a little more. Guys like Bridgewater, Manziel, Watkins and company have the normal amount of autographs we usually see, but lets be honest, you will have to bust through 4 more cases to have a shot.

Because it costs a ton of money to get "Money Manizel" to sign a thousand more cards, he is not the card that Chrome is loaded with. It will be guys that Topps can get for pennies on the dollar, and that is a huge problem for people who are buying a box at a time. Hell, its just as big a problem for the mass case breakers as well.

The scary part of this whole situation is that when you do pull a top autograph, they ARENT worth that much more than they normally would be. So, in theory, its just longer odds to get the cards you want. If this was a year like 2012, I think this wouldnt be as hard a pill to swallow, but no one is playing up to that standard yet. Of course, Topps didnt know that when they signed the order, but still.

Refractor Cases

Collation on this product, especially in the type of refractors in every case, is not even close to adequate. There are entire cases of Chrome that have nothing but refractors of Veterans, based on reports from case breakers, which is horrible. The veteran refractors are not why people buy Chrome, and that means that you will be stuck with dud refractors to match your dud autographs. Ouch indeed.

Add this into the fact that color refractors are harder to pull (and have similar value to previous chrome releases), and all of a sudden there is a larger problem at bay. Chrome is a product built for both the high end chasers and the set collectors, and this year is creating a chase that no one wants to complete.

Why Do These Problems Exist?

I love Chrome’s cards this year. They are not only great looking, but are defintely worth checking out even if you are frustrated with your break. I think that we have a situation where Topps knew that they could take advantage of the hobby’s attachment to Chrome, and they did it in quite the sneaky way. Although pack odds remain listed on the side, no one really reads them. They just buy because, like me, they love Chrome. Not knowing what is going on, they may not walk away with the understanding they should be having, and that creates some intense dissatisfaction with the product. For a company to do this on a brand with a potential to remain at the top? Product suicide. Remember, there is only one more year of this left, and Topps knows that we want to get our fill before it goes away. Personally, as a business, I dont blame them. Its a good move.

Diving Deeper Into 2014 Topps Dynasty Baseball

After watching about 20 case breaks online and scouring auctions with the coolest cards of the product, this is definitely turning into quite the release that Topps has going for it. Although I am still not a huge fan of the price for one card, as a case break product, it may mitigate some of the pricing issues that one person buying one box might have. Bottom line, many of these cards are insane, just insane. Here are some other thoughts.

The Good

I love the look and design of this product, it is clean, it looks high end, and the encased presentation definitely adds a lot to the whole set. Each card is more beautiful than the next, and that’s even before you start looking at patch content.

When it comes to the actual patches themselves, these are easily some of the most ridiculous ones we have seen in a baseball product in a very long time. Dynasty is littered with jumbo patches with huge pieces of logos, numbers, letters and tags, and I have yet to see a real one color piece anywhere. This is where I think many collectors will fall all over themselves to get a piece of their favorite player, as these are going to be the highest end cards for all those people who love the chase.

I also think the checklist is a win, even if it does have a few duds. Combing over auctions, player collectors are not JUST chasing their guys, which is a big deal in this hobby. Even the duds are cracking some nice prices, and that only speaks to how much people love the content. Although its not the best it could be, the addition of the throw in redemptions for the rookie and unproven players is a nice way to make up some of the issues.

Lastly, the main hits are all live. I have yet to see any major redemptions other than the ones that were added to the product as part of the help for rookie players. Even in those boxes, you are still getting a live auto patch, and that’s a very good thing to accompany a redemption in a box that costs 300+ per card.

The Bad

I was dead set against the price here, but when compared to a set like Flawless, you get considerably more for your money. With flawless, you get 2 nice cards, a good card, and 3-4 other junk cards. With Dynasty, the big hit of the case is going to be a HUGE hit, and the other cards are all going to be extremely nice too. Although I dont think this is something Im going to run out and buy, I have softened a bit on the cost per box.

That being said, I think there is a lot that can be added to make this more than a one card per box product. Adding in single autographed cards to accompany the big hits in every box is something I would definitely consider, even if it means extending the checklist out on the auto patch side of things. With one card, it gives the impression of this is IT, so it better be good, which is going to sour the people who get skunked on a one box break.

The lack of varied designs is a big of an issue too. Topps elected to change photos rather than the look of each card, and I would have liked more variety in they way each player’s allotted cards were laid out. Different photos cannot be the benchmark for a product like this. For reference, these white HOF type cards are the only variation that exists from the normal sepia run.

The Ugly

The one of one autograph pen quality is complete shit in some cases. There was an obvious need for running the pens longer before signing, and the stock seems to have sucked up the ink to the point that it is barely legible in some of the major cards. Considering these are the chase cards, there needs to be attention to detail when doing the signing itself.

I understand that the players likely didnt have this instruction, but it needs to happen. Many of the other cards turned out awesome, and its a shame the 1/1s did not.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Topps Dynasty Baseball

Baseball collectors are of a different breed than many other sports. When it comes to high end, they rarely bite unless it is something that completely blows people away. For the first time, Topps is trying a MEGA high end product in Dynasty, that costs over 300 dollars per CARD. Although each card is an auto patch, this puts a card by card price well above any other product ever released in Baseball. I am a huge high end autograph chaser, so my ears perked up when I heard about this product, but I have some questions.

Here are some of the cards that are up so far:

2014 Topps Dynasty Albert Pujols Auto Patch /10

2014 Topps Dynasty Bryce Harper Logo Patch Auto 1/1

2014 Topps Dynasty Miguel Cabrera Auto Patch /10

2014 Topps Dynasty Yasiel Puig Auto Patch /10

Now, before I go on, let me say that I love the look of this product. The sepia style presentation with silver and gold signatures really pops, and I think that the patch quality is unlike anything we have seen, maybe since 2010 Ultimate Baseball. The issue is not that, though. I would even go as far as saying that Topps Dynasty’s design and patch quality may be one of the saving graces of this set.

The issue is the cost per box, which is venturing into Flawless' insane territory, for a sport that has a hard time coughing up the big bucks for even crappy products like Triple Threads. Similar high end products that have always paled in comparison to the checklist and card quality of Dynasty. If that is the nature of the Baseball market, this is a huge risk regardless of what is inside.

With all that is going on in the hobby, is that a risk that Topps should be taking? Im not sure the answer is a positive one, as there is absolutely NO FUCKING WAY this should cost as much as it does. Not because there isnt anything worth tons of money, but instead because of what is available. Like Flawless, there are no 1/1 logos, no booklets, nothing other than some of the top cut sigs to make this different than a set like Five Star, which arguably looks better. Having a top quality checklist shouldnt be the determining factor of content. It just shouldnt.

Personally, I cant say I would be on the list of a person who is going to be buying this, but again like Flawless, I am definitely going to be chasing down some singles. I just cant justify spending 300+ per box, for one card, even if that card is an auto patch of a bigger name. There are too many duds on the checklist, and too much risk for a sport where Jeter, Trout, Griffey and a few others are the only real SUPER high end players.

Even though some of the singles that are up so far are easily going to clear the box price, I wonder if that will hold. Also, with younger unproven players also populating the checklist, it becomes more of a risk by the day. A low print run may create contrived scarcity to match the low serial numbers, but I see way too many similarities between this and other overpriced products.