A Texas-based trading card company caused a stir on Wednesday when it announced that a high-profile redemption card already inserted in packs of two of its football sets could be redeemed for an autographed Johnny Manziel card.
The company, Leaf Trading Cards, maintains that the company is doing nothing illegal and won't compromise Manziel's eligibility.
"Leaf wishes to clarify that neither the cards, the use of the signatures included in the cards, nor the artwork, is sanctioned by or endorsed by the personality [Manziel], his university or any other organization or licensing body," the company said in an announcement posted on its website.
Leaf president Brian Gray told ESPN.com that his company acquired the signatures from third parties with the intention of putting them into product, but neither Manziel at the time he signed them nor the sellers of the signatures knew of Leaf's intention.
"This kid has obviously got a future ahead of him," said Gray, alluding to his assertion that what the company has done won't compromise Manziel's eligibility.
Gray would not say how many autographed Manziel cards would be distributed to those who had redemption cards but did say that Leaf commissioned unique artwork for each card, which in the company's opinion satisfies the requirements of the First Amendment.
"In our business, we buy products and use cut signatures, like in this case, when we can't strike deals with a personality or if they are deceased," Gray said. "We can tell just by looking at Johnny's signatures selling on eBay that he's a compelling personality and doing this adds value to our product."
"We have been made aware of the Leaf Company’s inclusion of Johnny Manziel cut signature cards in its product offering, and we will investigate accordingly," said David Batson, Texas A&M's director of compliance in a statement. "Johnny has indicated on numerous occasions and once again earlier today that he has never (and, to his knowledge, his parents, other relatives, and friends have never) been compensated through cash or other benefits or promises of deferred compensation for providing his autograph. Furthermore, other than to charitable and non-profit fundraisers, Johnny has indicated that he has never knowingly provided an autograph to someone who had indicated a plan to sell his autograph.
"As for the Leaf Mystery Redemption Cards, Johnny has informed the Athletic Compliance Office that he has not authorized these cards’ production or sale; he has not knowingly provided his autograph for use in these cards; and he will not receive any compensation from the sale of these cards. As for whether Texas A&M or Johnny Manziel must request that Leaf not sell these Mystery Redemption Cards, the answer is no because such a step is not necessary when a photo or painting is sold for private use."
Manziel recently sued a T-shirt retailer for using the words "Johnny Football." Manziel filed to trademark his nickname last month.
Manziel told ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit that Texas A&M and lawyers hired by his family are working together to send out cease and desist letters.
"If they say, 'Well, we're going to keep selling it' or whatever, that's where it comes to a point where we'll sue for damages," Manziel said.
As ESPN previously reported, the NCAA has told officials in Texas A&M's compliance department that Manziel would get to keep damages awarded to him from legal outcomes while maintaining his eligibility.