NFL hopes to relax penalties for excessive celebrations

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL hopes to relax anti-celebration rules that have vexed players and fans in recent years, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Wednesday.

League officials began discussing the issue during the 2016 season, amid heavy criticism for punishment of a series of relatively minor infractions such as pretending to shoot a basketball jump shot after a touchdown.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said at Super Bowl LI that he wanted to find a better way to balance sportsmanship and "trying to allow players the ability to express themselves in an exuberant way." Competition committee members took up the discussion this week at the NFL scouting combine.

No decisions were made, but momentum has grown toward a framework that would allow harmless and spontaneous celebrations. The league will continue to outlaw what it considers excessive, prolonged or vulgar demonstrations. But there is now a leaguewide expectation that lighter guidelines will be adopted at some point this offseason, most likely during the annual owners meetings in Phoenix later this month.

Internal frustration emerged during the 2016 season about the outsized public attention paid for a handful of penalties. NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said that a total of 30 celebration penalties were called, a small percentage of 40,000 total plays over the season.

The trend slowed in the second half of the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. But memories of 15-yard penalties for jump shots, snow angels and spinning the ball remained etched in the minds of players and fans alike.