With the Lions agreeing to try to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford and with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson possibly asking for a trade of his own, it makes sense for an annual (or so) refresher on how trades work in January and February.
Teams can strike unofficial deals now; there’s nothing that prevents them from doing so. However, the deal won’t become official until the start of the new league year, on March 17, at 4:00 p.m. ET. That’s when both teams alert the league office to the trade.
And if one of the two teams decides not to proceed, the trade doesn’t happen — even if it’s widely reported that it will. While a renege would create real problems going forward for the team that doesn’t proceed, it can happen.
Three years ago, word broke during Super Bowl week that the Chiefs would trade quarterback Alex Smith to Washington. At any time between now and March 17, news of a trade involving Stafford or Watson can emerge. Again, however, any of the involved teams can back out before both terms turn the key on the official trade, after the launch of the new league year.
So, basically, any deal can be done now. But it won’t be done until March 17, only if it’s officially done by both teams.