Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is entering his 15th NFL season with a group of new players and it hasn't been an easy transition, according to his wife.
The Rams selected 14 players in the 2023 NFL Draft and have also seen some significant personnel changes in recent years. Since the team won Super Bowl LVI two years ago, Aaron Donald and Ernest Jones are the only starting defenders who remain on the roster.
"It's kind of crazy. So, Matthew's been in the league a long time. He's like, 'The difference in the locker room has changed so significantly.' They have a lot of rookies on their team, they're very young. But he's like, 'I feel like I can't connect,'" Kelly Stafford said on her podcast, "The Morning After With Kelly Stafford," last Tuesday.
Stafford is 35 years old, which apparently presents a large enough generational gap for him to need a literal "face book" as he attempts to learn the names of his teammates. Despite his efforts to be sociable, Kelly said they still see him as an authority.
"They say 'sir' to him and s***," Kelly said. "He's like, 'No, we're on the same level here, we're both playing in the league. Let me get to know you.' He said it's so different and so hard to get to know these guys. He had a book printed out. He had the equipment guy get a book printed of all their faces, and all their names, cause he's like, 'I need to know their names. We need to talk, so I'm gonna find their names and I'm gonna say, Hey so-and-so, how was your weekend? So, they know I know them and maybe we should get to know each other so there's chemistry on the field.'"
When Stafford entered the league in 2009, there were probably less locker room distractions. Smartphones and social media have taken a brand new form since then, and are hampering his efforts to get to know his peers, according to Kelly.
"But I think nowadays, it's really hard to develop that because all these young kids, they don't care. Or it's not that they don't care, but they're so used to going straight to their phones instead of having some fun with some guys in the locker room. It's different. It's kind of sad," she said. "I think Matthew feels it the most because he's so old and like a leader on the team. But he's like, 'I don't know how to lead people I have no connection with. I have to somehow find a way to connect with them.'"
His career began in Detroit with the Lions. He, Kelly and their four daughters relocated when he was traded to the Rams in 2021. Kelly added that the disconnect this offseason has led him to question if he should tap into his experience as a father.
"In the old days you'd come out of practice, you'd shower, and people would be playing cards, interacting. Who knows what they're doing, but they're doing something together. Playing ping-pong, they have a tournament going on. They'd at least be talking. But now they get out of practice and meetings during training camp, and they go straight to their phones. No one looks up from their phones. Matthew's like, 'I don't know ... am I the dad? Do I take their phones? What do I do here?' He's like, 'I want them to see me not as a coach.'"
While Stafford may not feel like he is vibing with the whole team, rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett appears to disagree. Bennett is learning behind Stafford, and called his fellow former Georgia Bulldog alum “the coolest guy ever,” last week. But maybe it helps that Bennett, who was born in 1997, is a bit older than most of his draft classmates.
The Rams open the regular season with a visit to the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 10. The matchup will hopefully feature Stafford's return to the field after missing the last half of the 2022 campaign with a neck injury.