The Michael Lombardi/Marty Mornhinweg war of words just got even more interesting. Lombardi’s “The GM Shuffle” Cadence13 podcast with Adnan Virk led to some controversy from Monday’s episode. That came because Lombardi said Mornhinweg (the long-time NFL coach who, most notably for this discussion, was the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator from 2016-18) “says to the coaches, this is fact, ‘when are we going to move him to receiver?'” about Lamar Jackson. Jackson was the Ravens’ first-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, and he’s gone on to shine for them at quarterback both last year and this year, so that comment absolutely would reflect poorly on Mornhinweg if it was made. But there’s some dispute as if it was ever made; Mornhinweg denies it, and he has some support, but Lombardi says his sources who told him about the comment in the first place insist that Mornhinweg did say it.
For his part, Mornhinweg adamantly denied ever making those remarks about Jackson. He did that in a statement issued through the team Tuesday, saying “That didn’t happen. Never said that. My thoughts before the draft, and even more when we started working with Lamar, was that this young man was going to be a special quarterback. Very early we saw that along with all of his throwing and escape abilities, he reads the field as well as any young quarterback I ever worked with.”
That statement also came with support from Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh, who said “Organizationally, we were on the same page with Lamar, and I thought [former general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] did a great job to take him where we did.” Meanwhile, former NFL quarterback Michael Vick (who Mornhinweg coached with the Philadelphia Eagles, and who spoke to Mornhinweg about Jackson pre-draft) also cast some doubt on Lombardi’s comment with comments on Twitter:
Every conversation I had with Marty Mornhinweg was positive about Lamar.. Matter of fact we spoke before the draft and we both shared in depth thoughts.. The Ravens drafted Lamar….I seriously doubt that coming from Marty!!!!
— Michael Vick (@MichaelVick) November 18, 2019
So that’s quite the list of denials. However, Lombardi is standing by his comments despite the backlash. He said on this week’s episode of The GM Shuffle (which was released Thursday) that his sources “within the building” maintain that Mornhinweg said this. Here’s the clip, and a transcription via Cadence13 (the podcasting network behind The GM Shuffle):
Adnan Virk: Is he [Marty Mornhinweg] telling the truth here, Mike?
Michael Lombardi: “You know, according to my sources, he’s not. I mean, Marty called me this week and was violently defending himself and…[saying]…how he…loved the kid [Lamar Jackson]…so I reached back to my source—actually two sources within the building—and both of them said…they stand by what they sent to me…look, I believe what…[my source and Marty] told me but I think the actions speak a lot louder than whatever words people are saying the thing that’s fascinating about this whole Lamar [Jackson situation]…the NFL is filled with people that want to jump on something that’s successful, and this would have gone the other way had Lamar not been successful, right? There would’ve been a lot of people saying, ‘I told you he couldn’t play.’ I mean, he’s the fifth quarterback picked…he’s the fifth. If this is what people visualized before the draft, why were four quarterbacks picked before him? Why were teams trading up to get quarterbacks to get him? Seriously. If it was so obvious, and…Marty…defended it and yada yada. I got it back, and the guy sent me an exact quote from the room that I wouldn’t repeat on air, but I mean, I’ve got it back from people that were in the room. This is [owner] Steve Bisciotti’s decision. This was nothing…premeditated by anything that the Baltimore Ravens did. It was his decision to make it…[he said] ‘Let’s give it a shot.’”
The sides are so far apart here, and this is such a black or white claim, that it doesn’t appear there’s any middle ground where both accounts could be correct. Either Mornhinweg said “When are we going to move him to receiver?”, or he didn’t. And without an audio recording of those comments, there’s no definitive proof he did say them. So readers are left to evaluate the credibility and the motivations on both sides of the story, and there are a few notable things to consider there.
On one hand, Mornhinweg’s side has on-the-record comments from himself, Harbaugh and Vick, while Lombardi’s side of this only has two anonymous sources “within the building.” We don’t know who those sources are, how senior they are, how trustworthy they are, if their knowledge of Mornhinweg’s alleged comments was firsthand or secondhand, or what their motivations for telling Lombardi this might be. It’s certainly possible they might have their own grudges against Mornhinweg (who, remember, is no longer currently with the team; he was replaced by Greg Roman after the 2018 season, and reportedly declined an offer to stay with the Ravens in another role). And with these sources being anonymous, there isn’t much potential blowback for them (unless they’re identified at some point later). It’s also possible that these sources aren’t trying to be deceptive, but that their recollection isn’t perfect; this is about events from almost two years ago at this point, and there doesn’t appear to have been any reason for anyone to keep detailed notes on who did or didn’t say what.
Also in Mornhinweg’s favor, there’s a general principle that using anonymous sources transfers the credibility from the sources to the reporter (who’s the only one who knows their identity, apart from editors or others in the reporter’s organization), and there are some question marks about just how credible comments from Lombardi are. While he has a long history as both a NFL front office executive and as a media commentator (including for NFL Network, Fox Sports, and The Ringer), he’s made some rather inflammatory remarks on a few occasions, such as claiming that Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson “might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL” (just a few months before Pederson led the Eagles to a win in Super Bowl LII) and stating that Josh Rosen “might like humanitarian work more than he likes football.” Now, both of those comments were identified as Lombardi’s own perspective rather than his reporting from sources, but remarks like that are part of Lombardi’s record, and that will have an impact for some when evaluating his credibility in relaying these comments from others.
On Lombardi’s side, though, as he points out in his comments, there are strong incentives for Mornhinweg to deny ever making those comments even if he did make them (especially if he wants to be considered for other NFL positions down the road). Those comments are obviously bad in retrospect, and Mornhinweg wouldn’t want to be associated with them. And the support from Harbaugh and Vick isn’t all-convincing either; it’s possible Harbaugh wasn’t there for this particular comment (Lombardi’s quote was only “said to the coaches”; that could be position coaches or assistants), or it’s possible that Harbaugh heard this comment but is trying to do his former assistant a favor by denying it, and Vick certainly wasn’t in the room for this (and Mornhinweg had all sorts of reasons to praise Jackson’s QB abilities when talking to Vick, even if he was privately skeptical of them).
As mentioned above, there’s no way to tell with 100 percent certainty who’s in the right here (barring the release of audio of these comments), so it comes down to readers and listeners to weigh each the credibility of each side and determine what they think. But it’s certainly interesting to see Lombardi not only not back down from this, but also reach out to his sources again and get them to reaffirm their accounts of what happened.