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Report: Friend told broker Manziel wouldn't autograph for free

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Johnny Manziel's relationships with autograph brokers are under focus. (USATSI) Johnny Manziel's relationships with autograph brokers are under focus. (USATSI)

(CBSSPORTS.COM) - The Johnny Manziel circus rolled on Monday with a report the Heisman winner's assistant and friend told an autograph broker Manziel would no longer sign memorabilia for free.

ESPN cited an anonymous broker who said Manziel signed hundreds of items for him before his friend and assistant, Nate Fitch, told the broker Manziel would no longer provide his autograph without compensation. The autograph sessions took place, the broker said, immediately before and in the days following Manziel's season-defining performance at Alabama.

The broker told ESPN he did not pay Manziel for the autographs. ESPN reported Sunday that Manziel received a flat fee of $10,000 or more for a January autograph session for memorabilia broker Drew Tieman.

Unlike that original story, Monday's report would not seem to threaten Manziel's NCAA eligibility. The broker does not allege that he (or anyone else) compensated Manziel for his autographs; neither Manziel nor Fitch specifically asked for any compensation for any reason, but merely specified that any future autographs (which were apparently never requested) wouldn't be delivered free; and even if Fitch had made such a request, that neither he nor Manziel ever received such compensation might keep Manziel in the clear -- a la the Cam Newton case -- as long as Manziel could plausibly claim to have been unaware of Fitch's demands.

In short, the new report further clarifies that Manziel (and Fitch) maintained relationships with the kind of brokers who would allegedly go on to pay him a few months later, and that there may have been frustration with Manziel being able to help others capitalize financially on his fame while he could not. (It's worth wondering if Fitch's alleged demand was really about seeking future compensation money, or just an attempt to forestall any future autgraph demands; would you want to sign somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 items for someone else to sell -- for thousands of dollars -- purely out of the goodness of your heart?)

But as for Manziel's eligibility and the NCAA's investigation, Monday's report does precious little to move that issue forward.

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