Brandon Williams had a good offseason. He got paid (a $54 million contract extension), got married (to his college sweetheart, Alyssa) and got away (to summer vacations in Greece and England).
Also, he got news. That was good, too: The NFL, once upon a time known as the No Fun League, had relaxed its rules on celebrations. And in the DNA of the Ravens’ 340-pound, built-like-a-boulder defensive tackle are at least a few strands of Ocho Cinco-esque showmanship.
“If I ever get in the end zone, cameras better be rolling, because I don't know what I'm going to do, but it's going to be great,” he said. Pressed for ideas, he rattled off a few dance moves — popping, break dancing, maybe the “Carlton” from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Then he settled, naturally, on gymnastics. “I know you've got to stay on the ground [under the new restrictions], but if I score a touchdown,” he said, “I'll take that fine for a handstand.”
Williams can do one, too. Whether he’ll actually score a touchdown this year to prove it is beside the point. In May, the NFL announced a more player-friendly set of guidelines for celebrations. Snow angels, group goofs and prop work with the football are back in. So is a basic understanding for Williams: Whenever the Ravens defense is up against it at the goal line, he’s one play away from becoming an unpaid extra in another team's Off-Broadway dance number.
Of course, this all very much pleases Mike Wallace. As if rule changes in recent years hadn’t done enough to favor offenses, here was another blow to defensive egos. Touchdowns provide the greatest stage for celebrations, scripted or otherwise. And Wallace plans on scoring a lot this season.
What the wide receiver plans to do after that, he can’t, or won’t, say.
“We can't tell you,” he said with the conspiratorial smile of someone planning a surprise party. “It's under wraps.”
Already, a few performances have caught his eye. On Aug. 19, for instance, in the Detroit Lions’ second preseason game, Marvin Jones caught a touchdown pass. He gave love to his linemen, absorbed a few helmet taps, then located fellow receivers Golden Tate and TJ Jones, who stood expectantly about 5 yards apart from each other.
For a few blissful seconds in the end zone, the trio became the NFL’s foremost Double Dutch team, Marvin Jones in the middle, imaginary jump ropes and all.
“They're starting, they're warming them up, but they're saving the real good ones for when the season starts,” Wallace said. “I think when the season starts, it's going to be ridiculous. People are going to be crazy.”
Some people, anyway. Third-year tight end Nick Boyle has not scored a touchdown in his NFL career. He is also “not really a dancing kind of guy.” His go-to move in the end zone: Give the ball to the nearest official.
Not that he’d shun a team effort. When Wallace said “everybody” on the 53-man roster would be involved at some point, he meant everybody: “We might even get Morgan involved.”
He was talking about Morgan Cox, the long snapper.
“If I could be involved in a group one, I think that'd be fun,” Boyle said. “It's a good time to celebrate with your teammates after you've had success on the field.”
In some ways, they have their head coach to thank. At the NFL owners meetings in March, John Harbaugh and Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett “made a really strong case” for the relaxed rules, Harbaugh said in May.
He argued that so long as the league maintained its stance against vulgar and time-wasting celebrations — nothing sexually explicit or violent, no taunting or pylons used as putters — the decision was “an easy one.”
“Let’s enjoy it,” he said. “I really like it when our guys celebrate. I like it when our guys score touchdowns. I want to score a lot of touchdowns. I want to see a lot of celebrations. I want our guys to have fun, and I want our fans to have fun.”
In early August, the Ravens hosted NFL officials for a question-and-answer session. Players asked what was considered sexual and what was not. They asked about whether they could dunk on the field-goal crossbar. (Answer: They cannot.) They tried to find the line between good celebrations and bad manners.
Kicker Justin Tucker, who has yet to find a dance move unworthy of his celebratory talents, was an admittedly interested observer. But he, too, was coy about his regular-season plans, saying only that he wanted “the world” to know how “sick” and “sweet” the feeling of nailing a tough kick is.
As it turns out, he’s already getting requests.
“Whatever is going to happen is, I guess, going to happen, as long as it’s within the rules,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “But we better not be kicking from the 20 [because of an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty]. That’s my answer.”
CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES
The NFL is finally lightening up. After years of stuffy rules governing player celebrations — 29 unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties were called on touchdowns in 2016, an all-time high — players this season will be allowed to show their creative side. For the most part, anyway.
» Going to the ground (snow angels)
» Using the football as a prop (rocking the ball like a baby, shooting the ball over the crossbar)
What’s not allowed
» Violent or offensive gestures (firing a weapon, throat slashes)
» Sexually suggestive acts (twerking)
» Using unapproved props (dunking on a field-goal crossbar, playing with pylons)