Either the Rams or the Lions can decline to proceed with the Stafford-Goff trade

Although plenty of articles (including most of the articles written by me) will characterize the Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff trade as a done deal, it’s not. It won’t be until March 17 at 4:01 p.m. ET.

More specifically, it won’t be until both teams communicate the same terms of the trade to the league office as of 4:01 p.m. ET on March 17.

This means that either team can decide not to proceed, with no consequence or rules violation. It’s happened before. In 2017, the Browns and Bengals had a deadline trade in place for quarterback A.J. McCarron. The Browns failed (or “failed“) to get official word to the league in time. Thus, the trade didn’t happen.

Six years earlier, the Ravens and Bears had a trade in place during the first round of the draft. The Bears didn’t communicate the deal to the league. And so the trade didn’t happen. The Ravens weren’t happy; they wanted the fourth-round pick that the Bears had offered to send — especially after the player the Bears wanted (tackle Gabe Carimi) fell to them anyway. The league did nothing.

Some will say that it’s highly unlikely that the Rams or the Lions will pull the plug on this trade because of the relationship between Rams G.M. Les Snead and Lions G.M. Brad Holmes. Holmes, after all, worked with Snead until getting the job in Detroit earlier this month.

But here’s the thing to remember: Others above Holmes could decide to not go through with it. He reports both to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and to team president/CEO Rod Wood. If Hamp decides she doesn’t want to buy Jared Goff’s contract, she doesn’t have to. If Wood concludes that the Lions could a great offer from another team without taking on the Goff contract, he can try to sell that concept to Hamp, too.

Feathers definitely would be ruffled if the Rams were left high and dry by the Lions on this. But it would violate not a single rule if the Lions decide between now and March 17 to pull the plug.

As these pre-league year trades become more and more common (the first significant one wasn’t the deal that sent Alex Smith from Kansas City to Washington in 2017 but the one that sent Alex Smith from San Francisco to Kansas City in 2013), it’s inevitable that one of the teams involved in a trade like this will decide to exercise its absolute right to not proceed with the tentative deal. Until both the Lions and Rams turn the key on the Stafford-Goff deal, this could be the one.