It wasn’t long ago that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens seemed to be in a committed, long-term relationship.

“I love my Ravens,” the quarterback tweeted just over a year ago. “I don’t know who the hell putting that false narrative out that I’m having thoughts about leaving.”

“I’ll take him over everybody,” coach John Harbaugh said in October. “He’s ours; we love Lamar. He’s the Ravens’ quarterback. I know the Ravens’ fans feel the same way.”

“I have a lot of admiration and respect for Lamar; I think he would say the same about me,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in March. He added: “We want Lamar here. We think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”

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Nowadays, their relationship status is more complicated. Over the past month, the Ravens and Jackson have started to look around, checking out their options elsewhere. After two-plus years of unsuccessful contract talks, the Ravens in March designated Jackson with the nonexclusive franchise tag, keeping him under team control but allowing him to find new suitors. Last week, Jackson announced that he’d requested a trade, frustrated by his negotiations with a Ravens front office that he said has “not been interested in meeting my value.”

“You all are great but I had to make a business decision that was best for my family and I,” Jackson wrote in a series of tweets that read like a breakup text.

Money has pushed their relationship to the rocks. Last year, Jackson reportedly received an extension offer that included the second-most guaranteed money in NFL history. But Jackson, who’s representing himself in contract negotiations, is believed to be seeking a contract similar in structure to the fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract that quarterback Deshaun Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns last offseason.

Inside football and out of it, monetary conflicts are a regular strain on relationships. According to research released in 2021, nearly three in four married or cohabitating Americans said financial decisions had been a source of tension. But Jackson’s standoff with the Ravens has thrust their once-happy partnership into an unusually public realm.

As the team pushes forward with its offseason, no relationship in the NFL will be more scrutinized. Is a breakup inevitable? Is a reconciliation possible? The Baltimore Banner spoke with two financial-therapy experts about how money problems can come between partners — and how they can be overcome as well.

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Money matters

While DeCosta has been reluctant to comment on the specifics of the Ravens’ ongoing negotiations, Jackson’s comments last week made clear what their stalled talks had long indicated: that he values himself more than the Ravens do. And without an agent to handle negotiations — Jackson has relied on advisers and help from the NFL Players Association — Jackson has had to consider every offer, weighing his self-worth against the Ravens’ own evaluation.

“How much you get paid ... is obviously clearly linked, psychologically, to your sense of worth,” said Mariana Falconier, an associate professor of family science at the University of Maryland who directs the school’s master’s program in couple and family therapy. Falconier said that when someone in a relationship feels they need to earn more, “there is a sense of incompetence in your skills for negotiation and defending what’s good for you.”

Financial conflicts tend to produce intense and long-lasting arguments, said Falconier, who called money a “chronic stressor” for many couples. And because of the link between money and power, financial inequity can lead to imbalances in otherwise healthy relationships, slowly eroding their foundation.

“Money in society is linked with prestige, with self-concept, self-esteem,” she said. “Sometimes it’s seen as a reflection of how much you have accomplished, what you have achieved in life. So there are confidence issues at work as well.”

Line of communication

It’s unclear how much the Ravens and Jackson have spoken since he requested a trade about a month ago; DeCosta is scheduled to meet with reporters Wednesday, his first availability since Jackson’s request.

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But Mary Bell Carlson, the president of the Financial Behavior Keynote Group, said resolutions to financial conflicts require communication, however difficult it might seem.

“It’s a two-way street that requires a lot more listening and question-asking and discussions,” Carlson said. “It’s seeking first to understand, then being understood.”

In some cases, Carlson said, conflicts require mediation; an independent third party can help facilitate communication and encourage a productive discourse. But even if the Ravens and Jackson were to take that unusual step in their negotiations, both sides would still need to be willing to not only compromise but also empathize.

“If there are disagreements, it’s very important that both partners really make a very good effort in trying to understand why what the other is asking for is important,” Falconier said. “What’s behind that? Usually, we deal with very strong emotions when we talk about money. We show anger. We show frustration. We show desperation. And what is behind that? Why? And sometimes we assume that our partner knows or understands.”

A path forward

NFL negotiations can be tense. They can be distressing. “It’s got to be very uncomfortable to know you may or may not be getting paid your multimillion-dollar contract, right?” Carlson said.

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But then, most financial conflicts are tense, distressing, uncomfortable. They can afflict people with what’s known as temporal myopia, Carlson said, where it becomes harder to recognize long-term benefits when short-term solutions seem more appealing.

“You’re making decisions out of the limbic part of your brain, which is the fight-or-flight syndrome that says, ‘Hey, get me out of here. I need to run. I need to get out,’” Carlson said. “But it’s not good for making long-term decisions.”

Carlson said she advises her clients to set boundaries: Establish what is negotiable in a relationship and what is not negotiable. The dynamics can be especially fraught for “lower-power partners,” Carlson said, who have less leverage and independence.

“The higher-power partner can absolutely run over and use money as a manipulation tool to control or to require the lower-power partner to do whatever they want,” Carlson said. “It is the lower-power partner’s responsibility to set up the boundaries, right? They’re the ones that have to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK anymore. This is not accepted. And this is the consequence for that.’ It’s a hard position to be in, but yeah, that happens.”

It’s unclear where that leaves Jackson and the only team he’s ever known. Jackson, the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player, is free to engage other teams in contract talks but is unlikely to reach the open market for at least another year. The Ravens, meanwhile, have limited salary cap space but remain hopeful that he’ll ultimately return for a sixth season in Baltimore this year and headline a potential playoff contender.

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Both sides have said they’re intent on winning a Super Bowl; Jackson promised an NFL championship when the Ravens drafted him in 2018, and DeCosta said last month that team officials have no interest in rebuilding their roster. That should give them hope for a reunion. “Everything can be worked out as long as you know people are committed to their relationship,” Falconier said.

But if “giving in 1 inch becomes a threat for you” in a relationship, Falconier said, the issues might run deeper than money. Sometimes, Carlson said, fixing a relationship requires patience. But not always.

“Other times, it’s best to never come back to that relationship,” Carlson said, “and that’s what’s going to be best for you at the end of the day.”

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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