On the Radar: 2014 Absolute Football

As of last year, Absolute was about as dead a brand as it ever has been. Not only were the cards incredibly ugly, but the value in the boxes was akin more to 2007 than 2013. Absolute’s format has not changed in years, even though the hobby has relatively moved on from tiny swatches and worthless autos. Now that we have somehow made it to this brand’s 20th anniversary, I am surprised to say that it looks good for maybe the first time ever.

You can see, this product has produced some VERY ugly cards over the years:

2012 Absolute Andrew Luck Rookie Premiere Materials Auto BGS 9.5

2011 Absolute Aaron Rodgers Jersey Auto

2009 Absolute LeSean McCoy Jumbo Patch Auto

2012 Absolute Russell Wilson Jumbo Patch Auto

There have also been a few nice designs too:

2012 Absolute Tools of the Trade Matthew Stafford Quad Relic Auto

2011 Absolute DeMarco Murray Rookie Premiere Materials Auto RC

I think the biggest change (at least according to the sell sheet) is the shift away from die cut spellings on the Rookie Premiere Material cards, which have been an ugly staple of the brand since 2006. Instead they have chosen to go with a quad swatch pattern, that I think is a really nice choice. Although we still have sticker autos, the broad line design with the player focused layout works very well. In the past, these cards have been complete train wrecks.

As for the other major part of the set, Tools of the Trade, we get another pretty nice looking design. It has been one of the more consistently awesome sets of this product. My only complaint is that the main look doesnt vary all that much from the RPMs, which is a bit confusing. In the past the tools design has been a different look all together, where as this year looks very similar to the other parts of the set. Even the jumbo patches look pretty good, which is saying something, considering the history of eyesores with this product's jumbo patch designs.

I think that Absolute still needs a major overhaul to be relevant in today’s market. However, I think that the look this year seems to be improved enough to get a few collectors to stay interested.

Diving Deeper Into 2014 Limited Football

Here is the thing. I understand what Panini was trying to accomplish with Limited's retooling a bit, but I think its worth another look to figure out if it has done anything to save this product. After a DISASTEROUS 2013 edition, Limited was shaping up to be as irrelevant as ever, though I do think the 2014 product looks quite a bit more crisp.

Check out some of the bigger hits:

2014 Panini Limited Teddy Bridgewater Logo Patch Auto 1/1

2014 Panini Limited Elway/Davis/Smith/Sharpe Quad Auto

2014 Panini Limited Johnny Manziel Jumbo Patch Auto Logo /5

2014 Panini Limited Richard Sherman Triple Patch Auto Dirty Patch

Limited’s 100+ dollar price tag is up over previous years, with the understanding that many of the cards are what the product title promises. However, its pretty clear that there are quite a few reasons why this could be referred to as a sticker dump, which is everything Panini should want to avoid with a set like this.

At least the design of the cards is much improved, save the jumbo memorabilia cards, which I have no words for. The lack of foil and focus on higher end looking motifs do this product a lot of justice, especially in terms of the base cards and base autographs. Even cards with multiple players look really nice all things considered, and that is a step up from where we usually see cards of that type.

I think the Black, White and Gold color scheme helps to make the colorful jerseys of the players stick out more vibrantly, and from I what I gather, that’s on purpose. I still think that the team word logo cutouts would have been something that could have made the rookie patch autos a bit more attractive, but collectors dont like their event used relics to be covered up. I disagree with that, but I still like that they added some shape to the box without making it an ugly straight rectangle.

The jumbo memorabilia cards are what kill this set for me. You just cant make a vertical oriented card with a patch that big. It covers too much of the player, and obscures so much of the card that you lose all the things that make cards cool. Adding in a giant foil box for sticker autos is even worse, as it prevents more of the card from being seen.

Similarly, with Limited coming out around the same time as flawless, I have no idea why we are still consistently bombarded with rookie sticker autos for the guys who signed. We KNOW they were able to get done, so why neuter it further? Although I like that some of the guys have preseason game shots as their pics, which is a great addition when you have to go with stickers, but I am not ready to make the trade off yet.

When considering how far Panini still has to come with a set like this, I start to wonder what is in play for other products coming later this year. We all know Totally Certified is going to totally bomb like the totally horrendous product it is, but this one had potential. Kind of pissed about it still.

Panini Further Extends Reach with University of Texas Exclusive

With the announcement of the recent news that Panini has secured exclusive rights to University of Texas trading cards, the writing should be on the wall. This is a big deal for their recent strategy. Not only is it clear that they were denied the use of a CLC (NCAA school logos) license, but they have found a loop hole that basically gives them an opportunity to slowly extend their middle finger in response. Texas has been a money maker for UD in the past, only cutting deeper into their margins.

I absolutely hate having to post one of these articles every time they secure another deal, but I have an ever growing fit of nausea that this is going to be a common thing. Eventually they will get everyone important, and it will give Upper Deck a very interesting decision. Continue to produce CLC cards with the remaining schools, or produce unlicensed sets like Leaf and Press Pass.

Lets face facts here, Panini has money, and with money comes the upper hand. Upper Deck is deep into debt, and likely is trying to formulate a plan that will keep them viable to stave off bankruptcy. However, at the same time, I would guess that is exactly what Panini wants to happen. Their cards remain some of the better designed examples on the market, but NCAA is still a niche market. Upper Deck is the lowest hanging fruit in terms of ridding the landscape of competition, which may only be a matter of time based on rumblings within the industry. Its sad, because they have really done a lot with losing both the NBA and NFL license in a very short period of time. Its sad that Panini is slowly whittling away their list of schools available to use.

It also has multiple assets which are EXTREMELY valuable to a company like Panini. Exquisite, Jordan and Lebron would go a long way to legitimize Panini’s floundering basketball operation, and its extreme investment in a very high priced exclusive license. A license that has rarely paid off in any way so far. You can see why it would be attractive to them.

At the same time, eliminating competition is a HORRIBLE situation for the sustainability of the industry. Although Panini is the most stable company thanks to sugar daddies in Italy, its clear that industry health is not of their concern. The only thing they care about is setting their plan for manifest destiny in motion, which will only serve one purpose, and thus limiting the options collectors have.

Exclusives suck. To date, I have seen no reason from a hobby standpoint that people benefit from limited choices. The pain is greater, because not only will an exclusive keep out competition, but it may end the companies as well. Its almost like a permanent exclusive in that way, which is that much more troubling than a league designed exclusive.

University of Texas has a rich history and a rabid fan base. This makes them a very attractive school for Panini to get on board, only solidifying their place in a CLC devoid market. As I have said before, if I am Upper Deck, I am really considering if making unlicensed cards is something that can be done in sports other than Hockey.

Panini is not the company that has made the best and most beloved cards in any of the sports they have taken over, and yet, here we are.

2014 Flawless Football Gem Cards Are Heating Up

I really like the design of Flawless. I have already bought a number of singles, because the cards look as good as they do. As I have said previously, design is not why I want to bang my head against a wall with each passing day. The price of the boxes is really what gets me. But none of that prepared me for what I was seeing in one specific part of the product. The base diamond cards are outperforming many of the autographs. Ba-wha?

Check these rookies out:

2014 Flawless Teddy Bridgewater Diamond RC /20

2014 Flawless Sammy Watkins Diamond RC /20

2014 Flawless Blake Bortles Diamond RC /20

2014 Flawless Derek Carr Diamond RC /20

Fuck, even the vets are going huge:

2014 Flawless Aaron Rodgers Emerald /5

2014 Flawless Tom Brady Diamond /20

2014 Flawless Joe Flacco Diamond /20

Here is why this is a good thing. These cards may actually mean that a box that has dud content may be saved by a diamond card. Similarly, it also showcases that there are a lot of collectors out there who will pay for non-autographed content in this manner. That is a very good thing.

Its also quite representative of the hobby as well. First off, for a product costs 1350 a box, some card with a 5 dollar chip of diamond should not be one of the chases. Im sorry, but that is just beyond bonkers to me. If people are buying these cards because they represent the “true RC” of the set, that is even more unusual of a situation. I fail to identify with an outdated definition from an outdated magazine of what represents a player’s rookie card. It pains me to think that cool cards are devalued because we are so anal about defining the card's place.

The chase of products like this should be logos and rare autographs from high end players that have never been featured in this manner. It should not be gimmick cards with diamonds and emeralds in them. I feel like I am losing my mind here, I feel like everything I have come to identify with is not holding true, and yet, here we are. I dont understand how hard signed autographs do not hold more value, its a completely foreign concept to my perspective.

I also realize how maniacal it is for me to say that the way people are functioning is wrong, but my perspective continues to be warped by the fact that cards without autographs are not on my “must have” list. People can and should be able to spend as they please, but I feel like we are migrating away from the way things should be by a card that offers nothing out of the ordinary. I mean, do people know these chips of diamond arent worth anything? Its the equivalent of scrap metal in the gem world.

Something is off when these cards are selling for what they are, in my opinion. Its like we have lowered our standards so much, that we can be swayed by gimmicks of this sort. This article is going to get me some heat, but I just cant hold this in. As a whole we need to demand better.

Breaking Down the Best Players of 2014

This is a big year for many of the game’s top guys, and we have seen that many of them already have started to set some records along the way. Although not all of them have been hobby superstars to this point, many of their cards are getting some major bumps as a result of performances. Here are my awards to this point.

MVP – DeMarco Murray, Cowboys

There is no doubt that his play has made Dallas into a contender this year. With Romo banged up, Murray has avoided injury to this point to put up mammoth numbers in the rushing attack. With his injuries at bay for now, he could come very close to a shot at breaking the all time record, or at least put up 2000 yards. Not a bad way to reinvigorate the RB position.

2014 Flawless DeMarco Murray Jumbo Patch Auto

2011 Topps Platinum DeMarco Murray Auto NFL Logo 1/1

2011 Topps Chrome DeMarco Murray Auto Black Refractor BGS 9.5

Offensive Player of the Year – Peyton Manning, Broncos

Sure, the Broncos laid an egg aginst New England, but Manning has put up some incredible numbers along the way. In true NFL fashion, he has shown that the QB is one of the most important parts of a winning formula and should have no problem skating to the playoffs. Manning remains a great signer, which makes his cards a bit undervalued, but his breaking the all time record has helped.

2014 Flawless Peyton Manning Auto Patch Emerald /5

2013 National Treasures Peyton Manning Dual Patch Auto

1998 Bowman Peyton Manning Auto RC

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Sammy Watkins, Bills

The Bills found gold in Kyle Orton reclaiming his former glory since benching EJ Manuel early in the season, but Orton has found his muse in Watkins who has lit up the field with his talent for making dramatic plays. I think Watkins has a great shot at being a top WR, and though Buffalo gave up a ton to get him, so far it has played out well for them.

2014 Inception Sammy Watkins Inscription Auto /10

2014 Valor Sammy Watkins Auto Patch RC

Defensive Rookie of the Year – CJ Mosley, Ravens

Look at the top Linebackers so far, and you will be surprised that Moseley is near the top of the league in many of the categories that are valued among the players like him. Additionally, the Ravens are playing pretty well, which helps his case even more. In the hobby, he will go for nothing because he isnt on the Offensive side of the ball, but he is looking like a pro.

2014 Limited CJ Mosley Auto RC

2014 Bowman Chrome CJ Mosley Gold Refractor Auto /75

Defensive Player of the Year – JJ Watt, Texans

Houston is struggling because of a number of issues, including going to start an unproven backup in Ryan Mallett to hopefully save an offense that hasnt managed much. Watt, on the other hand is showing hands down why he is the guy you have to plan for every down, and has made his presence felt all year.

2014 Flawless JJ Watt Inscription Auto

2011 National Treasures JJ Watt Auto RC Gold

Biggest Surprise – Arizona Cardinals

Who in their right mind picked Arizona to start the year 8-1, and have the top spot in the league? To think they did it with Drew Stanton at the helm is even crazier. Though Palmer has played well, it looks like he will be out for the rest of the year. Not good, but still a huge surprise none-the-less. Andre Ellington has shaken off a slower 2013 to come on as a great player, and Larry Fitzgerald has turned back the clock to play lights out.

2003 Bowman Chrome Carson Palmer Auto Red Refractor

2013 Playbook Andre Ellington Drawn Play Inscription Auto

2004 SP Authentic Larry Fitzgerald Auto Patch Gold

Biggest Disappointment – Johnny Manziel

Although its not his fault that Brian Hoyer is playing as well as he has, no one expected him to spend the year holding a clip board. Not only has this affected the hobby in the way products are selling, but he is getting frustrated as well. We know he isnt the most stable personality in the game, which may be a ticking time bomb for the Browns.

2014 Topps Finest Johnny Manziel Auto Logo Superfractor 1/1

2014 Limited Johnny Manziel Logo Tag Auto 1/1

Im definitely interested to see how the season plays out, especially if some of the rookies can turn it on and make the playoffs.