On the Radar: 2014 Panini Contenders Football Sneak Peak

I rarely turn my head at a one card preview, but this is one of the biggest Panini sets of the year. Last year was a good looking product despite the horrid class, and 2012 was similarly nice for most of the main autographs. This year isnt looking like they were able to put together a three peat.

Let travel back, because this set does have QUITE the rich history:

2012 Contenders Andrew Luck Auto Rookie Ticket

1998 Contenders Peyton Manning Rookie Auto Ticket

2000 Contenders Tom Brady Rookie Ticket Auto

2012 Contenders Russell Wilson Rookie Auto Ticket

Contenders has as loyal a collector base as Chrome, even though I dont feel that the set has consistently looked as good. There are some years of Contenders that are lost because of horrendous design work, and it makes me wonder how this set is still as popular as it is. Let us not forget the dumpster fire that was 2011 Contenders. If you think that is bad, check out 2009’s autographs. Some of the worst ever.

This year’s version has a number of issues with the design we are seeing in this preview, and most of them stem from the layout of the card and the massive amount of wasted space. A pretty common situation from past years as well. Even without seeing the base white version of the card, its already evident that the giant text and logo for the set take up as much of the layout as the player picture, which is the first strike. The separate but not defined auto space takes up more space, leaving a picture that needs to be cropped to the top 1/3rd of the card instead of being more of a focus. All of my pet peeves in one.

Personally, I really liked the ticket design for 2013, and 2012 was great, even though the latter was a copy of 1998. In fact, I cant even give them credit for 2012, because when the Panini design team had to alter the design for the stickers, it was the usual train wreck. Seriously, 2013 may have been their biggest success, and its sad that the class was as bad as it was.

Contenders is going to continue being Panini’s main squeeze, even more so than products like Flawless, Immaculate and Treasures, as it is their most accessible brand. The continued focus on delivering autos over relic content is a good formula if their design team could figure out how to avoid these terrible layout issues.

Here is the big reveal of the 2014 Ticket design:

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Unique Memorabilia Cards Racking Up Big Prices

Ill give it to Panini – they definitely have cornered the market on Jumbo patch cards. Not only jumbo patch cards, but ones with pretty unique pieces of memorabilia in them. So much so that collectors are latching on and with a recent preview from Exquisite BKB, UD is too.

Check them out in all their glory – here are the BKB ones:

2014 Immaculate LeBron James Sneak Peak 1/1

2014 Immaculate Shaquille Oneal Logo Sneak Peak 1/1

2014 Immaculate Blake Griffin Logo Sneak Peak 1/1

Here are the BB ones:

2014 Immaculate Ken Griffey Jr Glove Logo 1/1

2014 Immaculate Cal Ripken Jr Hat Logo

2014 Immaculate Tony Gwynn Glove Logo Patch

I think these cards are a pretty interesting chase, as Basketball has always been about the shoes. Always. Air Jordans continue to be some of the most collectible commodities of the basketball world. Adding in a shoe element to basketball cards is a great idea.

Additional chases in place because of the rarity of the cards is similarly important, mainly because of how unavailable some of these cards are in both BB and BKB. Collectors in basketball thrive on this element, and will go nuts trying to get the cards from their favorite players. Funny enough, with some of the Baseball versions, the whole piece of game used memorabilia can be worth LESS than the piece of it in a card. For top players, batting gloves and cleats are actually pretty easy to come by because of how many are used over the course of the season. Hasnt stopped these cards from being VERY hot commodities.

I really dont even like the way they look, as I have never been a fan of a card that uses a swatch (jumbo or otherwise) in place of design. If you are trying to showcase a large piece of memorabilia, use an oversized format or find a way to make the card look good. So far, Panini hasnt found that balance even in the slightest.

Scary as that may be to people like me, so many collectors will judge value on patch content rather than actual design. Its how Panini lovers and apologists attain that label. They just want big patches and they dont care how it looks. Does that detract from the idea? To me, yes. To everyone else, probably not. Im not going to sit here and battle against cards like this, because I know that fight is a futile one. However, Upper Deck did find a way to use unique memorabilia pieces in the past and have done it well:

2005 Exquisite Reggie Wayne Signed GU Shoulder Pad Autograph

2005 Exquisite Deion Sanders Signed GU Shoulder Pad Autograph

2005 Exquisite Tiki Barber Signed GU Helmet Auto

Other formats including booklets and other situations can circumvent the need for design on a massive patch card:

2014 Inception Johnny Manziel Auto Jumbo Patch Booklet

2012 National Treasures Andrew Luck Booklet Jumbo Patch Auto

I dont think Panini cares very much considering how successful these cards have become, but when you see how much Immaculate has tanked outside of these cards, maybe its worth more consideration than they are giving it.

Retail Mega Boxes Provide Early Peek At 2014 Topps Valor

Back in 2012, I thought Valor had a pretty unique concept, using the painted style as a theme for a set build around battle on the gridiron. It featured on card autos and a lot of nice looking cards, but also a ridiculous box price that didnt deliver on the content. As a result the product tanked and was axed until its return this year. With the recent release of new Mega Boxes, we are getting an early peek at the cards.

Here are some of the early retail hits:

2014 Topps Valor Sammy Watkins Auto Patch

2014 Topps Valor Blake Bortles Auto RC

2014 Topps Valor Tom Savage Auto Patch /75

2014 Topps Valor Brandin Cooks Auto Patch /99

2014 Topps Valor Teddy Bridgewater Silhouette Jumbo Patch

I think as a concept, Valor remains a very cool idea, and has some very nice looking cards. However, with these packs being included almost 3 weeks ahead of time, its a bit odd in practice. Retail is a different animal, and we all know that the redemption issue is going to factor in, so maybe this is a way to mitigate some of the problems.

Secondarily, with a product performing as poorly as it did in the past, one has to wonder if this is a way to drum up some hype around a set that didnt have very many pre-orders. Im guessing Valor is going to be pretty short of a print run, and even with this retail element, there wont be much of it floating around.

I will say that I am impressed with the improvements made to the cards, as many of them look a lot better than they did last year. The shield motif is fun, and though the autographs have gone from on card to stickers, they did make the most of the way it looks.

There is a very Braveheart style feel to the cards, and I expect that collectors will appreciate it much more than the similarly off the beaten path look to Topps Fire. A drop in box price on the hobby side, plus more content of relic autos will do this product well, but I am still not sure how successful it will be. Concept and motif laden sets like this have a propensity to tank, even though they usually look better than the simple cookie cutter sets that some of the companies churn out ad nauseum.

In terms of the relics, I absolutely love when the companies use the silhouette style approach, as I think it adds a very dynamic feel to the card that wouldnt normally be there. We first saw similar cards like this in 2012 and 2013 Topps Supreme, and I think it was a great idea to bring them back.

I guess we will have to wait to see how this year truly differs from 2012 once the cards start hitting shelves later this month.

Has Lack of Manziel on the Field Hurt the Potential for 2014 NFL Rookies?

Coming into 2014, the hype was all about Johnny Manziel. He was one of the first prospects to come out of college with both fame and talent to make it in the NFL, a recipe for success in the hobby as well. Bottom line, when you have the fame like Tim Tebow, you are going to be a darling among collectors regardless of play. Now that Hoyer has taken the starting job and doesnt look like he is ready to let go, Manziel’s stuff is sagging a bit. Can the rookie class survive without Manziel being at the forefront?

Check out the recent prices we are seeing from Manziel, these cards have been dropping frequently:

2014 Inception Johnny Manziel Auto Inscription /10

2014 Topps Finest Johnny Manziel Gold Refractor Auto Patch

2014 Topps Prime Johnny Manziel Auto Six Relic Booklet

2014 Topps Finest Johnny Manziel Auto Red Refractor /15

Its a curious question because there are a lot of rookies that have potential. Recent surges by Bortles and Bridgewater to take their teams' starting jobs have been great for the hobby, and their cards. Bridgewater missed a nationally televised game with an ankle injury that has been an issue for his short term value, but his cards will pick back up. Same thing goes for Bortles, whose Jaguars are really struggling to win and be productive. Bortles' card values are still strong because of his nice potential shown in his two starts. Both QBs have done very well all things considered, and in that case, Manziel hasnt been too big of an issue for the other RCs in the class.

Eventually All the rookies will need to perform for the box prices to not take a hit, but so far, there has been a great performance from the the other tiers in the rookies class to prevent a huge fall from Manziel not playing.

Other rookies like Odell Beckham and Mike Evans havent really been playing much to help the class ein their own right, but that will change with both rookies coming back from injuries. Other guys like Kelvin Benjamin and the other rookie receivers have made up for it, with Benjamin taking home rookie of the month. Eventually once the play of Bridgewater and Bortles settles into where we expect them to be, we will have a better idea of what the rookie class might be able to do if Manziel doesnt end up playing this year.

The question comes from this – if Manziel is benched for the entire season, how much does this hurt box prices and eventual other things that can be affected by his absence from the field. Can products like Flawless and Five Star still be as successful if he sits? No idea. But its worth talking about. Derek Carr hasnt exactly been lights out in Oakland, and Austin Davis doesnt look like he is anything more than TJ Yates version 2014. So, does this mean that guys like Terrance West and Andre Williams can make things more interesting?

Other big rookies like Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney have been relatively quiet all things considered, and that says a lot about what people were expecting coming into 2014. I think that we really have to see what happens as the season moves along, especially if none of the 2014 rookies have made the impact we are expecting.

Even though I dont like Manziel all that much, I do want him to succeed. I want the 2014 class to be one to remember. We need cards like this to sell regardless of how much he plays.

SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Prizm Football Remains a Joke

If you read the article earlier this week, you know how much I hate this set. After seeing the live box breaks and all the cards that are popping up on eBay so far, my rage fueled hate fire for this shit is getting stronger by the moment. It just never ceases to amaze me what collectors will buy, and yet, here we are year after year.

2014 Prizm Teddy Bridgewater Auto RC Refractor

2014 Prizm Johnny Manziel Auto RC Refractor /35

2014 Prizm Zac Stacy Panini-Fractor Auto Diecut

2014 Prizm Andy Dalton Panini-Fractor Auto Diecut

2014 Prizm Mike Evans Hippie-Fractor Auto RC

Now that I see they autographs, and all the parallels, I dont think the base non-autos are that bad. The autographs have actually served to make the base cards look better, which speaks volumes. Of course, for whatever reason I dont think they are as bad as last year, but that’s like saying my 1978 Gremlin coupe is not as bad as my 1977 Gremlin coupe. They are all bad.

The die cut insert sets range from interesting to "GOOD GOD WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?," and its actually funny how there wasnt one single voice in the room that said maybe some of them werent a good idea. Then again, Panini is laughably horrible with this anyways.

Secondly, the autographs in this product look awfully watered down, as any of the good players are on a very short SP list. One of the Manziel lower tier cards is numbered to just 35, so unless I am missing something, its going to be tough to pull something nice.

As I have said time and time again, its going to be close to impossible to continue buying cards come 2016 unless Panini figures out how to produce good looking cards that dont make me want to wretch. This set is going to end up being their flagship Chrome style set, and we should all be sick to our stomach that is going to happen. Yes, the set where they replaced the S in Prism with a Z, to be more hip is going to replace Chrome. Gross.

Prizm has such a poor track record that it deserves its own category of fail. Bravo guys. Bra-vo.