Here’s why you might not see intricate TD celebrations this NFL season

The NFL is doing its best to shed the “No Fun League” label that it’s carried for the past few years. That tag has been tied to the league mostly because of commissioner Roger Goodell and the officials’ crackdown on celebrations, which irritated not only fans but players as well.

“No dunking over the goal post! You can’t twerk! Pretending the ball is a toilet?! Nope, don’t think so.”

Those are some of the things fans imagine NFL officials saying to players after they score a touchdown, but gone are the days where players are restricted to doing only slightly more than just handing the ball to the referee. Goodell announced Tuesday that the league is relaxing its rules against celebrations, allowing players more freedom:

“Today, we are excited to tell you about another change that comes after conversations with more than 80 current and former players: We are relaxing our rules on celebrations to allow players more room to have fun after they make big plays.”

Players can now use the ball as a prop, engage in group celebrations with teammates and even go to the ground for a snow angel. Congratulations Tajae Sharpe, you can now take a nap after putting six points on the board without being penalized.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This is all well and good, but how much freedom are players actually being given with these new rules? Possibly less than you might think.

Remember back in March when Goodell announced changes to speed up the pace of play, cutting down on commercial breaks and such? Great news, right? Of course. Well, you may have forgotten that the NFL is instituting a play clock between touchdowns and extra-point attempts that seems to run contrary to all the end zone fun we’ve been promised.

From the Associated Press:

“There is no set time limit on how long such celebrations can continue. But the league is placing an emphasis on speeding up the pace of games. The 40-second play clock will begin once an official signals a touchdown and teams will have to snap the ball for their extra-point play by the end of the clock.”

Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports/Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

So just how large of an impact will the post-touchdown play clock have in 2017? We watched the final seven games of last season  – the Super Bowl, two conference championship games and four Divisional Round contests – with a stopwatch in hand to determine the average time between touchdowns and snapping the football for a PAT, and it was 44.9 seconds. We’ll call it 45 seconds, for argument’s sake.

This is from the moment an official raises his arms to signal touchdown to the exact moment the team snaps the ball for the extra point. The average was taken from the 32 touchdowns in those games that didn’t include a delay for an injury, booth review or penalty.

AP

What this means is that teams are already taking an average of 5 seconds too long to snap the ball for an extra-point attempt. Next season, they’ll need to shave that time off of their dilly-dallying to get to the line more quickly.

That 45-second average included brief celebrations – a simple spike, or short dance in the end zone. With a 40-second clock being enforced, teams will have to hurry to the line and not waste any precious time with dances, naps or pretending to roll over teammates with a bowling ball.

For instance, Cam Newton did a dance against the Titans in 2015 that lasted almost 20 seconds and nearly started a brawl in the end zone. Do you really think a 20-second celebration is going to fly when teams only have 40 seconds to get the kicking unit on the field, line up properly and the snap the ball?

Granted, not every celebration will be as elaborate as Newton’s, but with the NFL loosening up the restraints on dances and acts, players will be even more likely to push the boundaries and do something out of the ordinary. The problem is, if they don’t get it done in time, the punishment is steep. Five yards on the PAT for delay of game is far more important than 15 on the ensuing kickoff for excessive celebration. Pushing the already-lengthened kick from 33 to 38 yards could cost a team a point, and if you’re the guy who held things up only to have your team lose by one after an elaborate celebration routine that leads to a missed kick, well, let’s just say good luck getting fans to cheer your next move.

This isn’t to say the NFL didn’t make improvements to the celebration rule, because it did. It’s a big step in the right direction, allowing players to express themselves more freely and creatively. Everyone wins in that scenario, especially the fans.

But it’s also possible the NFL knew exactly what it was doing when it instituted a play clock prior to relaxing the celebration rules. It’s basically telling players, “Go ahead and celebrate, but keep it short or you’re going to cost your team 5 yards on the PAT.”

It’s smart, to be honest. Players are happy, fans are happy, and the NFL is shifting away from the “No Fun League” mantra. Only, when Week 1 rolls around and players realize how little time they have to celebrate, it will be more clear that the 2017 season isn’t going to turn into End Zone Dance Party — at least for more than a few seconds.