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Johnny Manziel Autograph Investigation: Is ESPN Backing Up or Doubling Down?

ESPN now has a slightly different report on the Johnny Football Signature imbroglio. But it might be more an attempt to provide circumstantial evidence than a sign the worldwide leader is backing off

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The problem with using anonymous sources is that you don't know which anonymous sources are saying what. Or at least the reader doesn't. So what to make of the latest ESPN report on Johnny Manziel's Autographgate. We don't exactly know who is telling which reporter what, but Joe Schad is now reporting that a "prominent autograph broker" says he was asked for money if he wanted further signatures from the Heisman-winning quarterback. But it wasn't Johnny Manziel doing the asking (stop me if this starts to sound familiar), it was Uncle Nate.

Key disclaimer: Even ESPN says this is no smoking gun.

The broker, who spoke to Schad under the condition of anonymity, said that Manziel signed about 50 items for him at the Texas A&M team hotel the night before the Nov. 10 Texas A&M at Alabama game. The person said that Manziel then signed about 200 more items a few days later, with the broker saying he did not compensate Manziel for either of those sessions.

There are two readings of this that are becoming popular right now.

The first one, which I think is probably closer to at least the way ESPN wants the story to be construed, is that this report adds more smoke about the possibility that Manziel was accepting money for autographs. If it indeed happened some time "last season," that would likely place it before the signing session at the national championship game. Which would, of course, at least provide a patina of circumstantial evidence that Manziel's entourage was expecting cash for autographs by then.

The second, less charitable explanation is that ESPN is beginning to backtrack on its original story and is simply laying the groundwork for that. If that's what the worldwide leader is doing, I would expect them to be a little less subtle about it.

What seemed to be a simple story is now getting more complicated, and likely has a few twists and turns left before it evens out. Was Uncle Nate freelancing? Was he asking on behalf of Manziel, and could the NCAA even prove it if he was? Mostly importantly, can anyone actually prove that Manziel ever got paid for autographs? For all the ESPN reports that are out there right now, we're still a long way from any of those questions being definitively answered.