PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In a culture which loves a good conspiracy theory, it didn't take much to connect Mike Lombardi's out-of-left-field criticism of Doug Pederson and trace it back to Jim Schwartz.

A quarter century ago the Eagles well-respected defensive coordinator actually got his start in the NFL when Lombardi, an Ocean City native who was the Cleveland Browns' personnel director at the time, hired him as a scout.

The two have remained close ever since and that's not exactly a secret in the league as Lombardi has often lauded Schwartz as one of the game's best defensive minds during his stints in the media.

And that's what made Lombardi's take during an appearance for The Ringer so interesting.

“Everybody knows Pederson isn’t a head coach," Lombardi claimed. "He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I’ve ever seen."

From there you don't need Wikileaks to connect the dots. Schwartz is part of "everybody" and perhaps he has been feeding Lombardi disparaging information about his current boss.

Schwartz, of course, denied that at his weekly media availability on Tuesday and downplayed the relationship with Lombardi, something that vibes with another NFL source who told 973espn.com that this is purely Lombardi driven.

“Lombardi is good friends with Jim Schwartz,” the insider claimed. “He’s talking out of school and wants to make Jim look good in case the Eagles decide to make a change.”

The problem now is that Lombardi has done the exact opposite and at least some now believe Schwartz is actively trying to secure his next head-coaching job by feeding into the narrative that Pederson is ill-equipped for his job.

That had Lombardi scrambling to explain his original take was his own opinion despite the curious phrasing of "everybody knows."

“Don’t link the two of us together in this because we’re friends because that’s not the case,” Lombardi said on ComcastSportsnet's “Philly Sports Talk. “One thing people know about me … I say what I think. I don’t have to wait for somebody else to tell me.”

As someone who is on the radio every day, I can say you do have to be cautious when parsing words and playing semantics because Lombardi's original take was off the cuff.

Here's what you should read into it: Lombardi has a ton of respect for Schwartz and believes his friend would be a better head coach for the Eagles than Pederson.

It should end right there but because of Schwartz's personality and presence in the building as well as the media market itself, the gossip is picking up.

There is a fine line between ego and confidence and Schwartz does carry himself like a head coach, probably because he's been one. That said, he's also been diligent when it comes to staying in his lane, often refusing to answer certain questions that are outside his job description and deferring them to the head coach.

The other stipulation about Schwartz from just about everyone (whether they like him or not) is that the DC is very smart and leaking unflattering information about the head coach isn't the smartest way to get a promotion from an owner who hasn't hired a defensive-minded head coach in over two decades.

More so, Jeffrey Lurie was taken aback by the lack of "emotional intelligence" from Chip Kelly, corporate buzzwords for no one liked the former head coach because he was so aloof. Schwartz is cut from a similar cloth, often described as arrogant or focused depending on who has been ignored in the hallway.

Pederson, on the other hand, is engaging and respectful, a trait some have described as "too nice" to earn the respect of the players.

Malcolm Jenkins disagreed.

"I think he’s on the right track,” the Eagles star safety said. “He knows and understands that this is a player’s league and so a lot of ownership, a lot of the responsibility of wins and losses around here fall on the players. He’s willing to allow us to have input. …Those are the things in my experience make really good coaches. I think he is off to a good start.”

Perhaps more importantly, Lurie had a similar take.

“I see him as someone who can keep improving,” Lurie said of his head coach. “He’s a listener. He’s a collaborator. I think he has terrific relationships with the players. The future is in front of him, and it’s there for the taking.”

As for Schwartz, he certainly wants to be a head coach again and he's savvy enough to understand the means to that end is improving his defense not usurping his boss.

-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen