Luke Kuechly Announces Retirement

One of this era’s defining defenders, Luke Kuechly delivered a stunner Tuesday night. The perennial All-Pro announced his retirement at age 28.

Kuechly made his seventh straight Pro Bowl this season and is a five-time first-team All-Pro. The 28-year-old linebacker has dealt with concussions for years. He suffered three from 2015-17. While Kuechly is not the first to retire early due to health issues in recent years, he is one of the highest-profile players to step away early in modern NFL history.

While Kuechly did not miss any time from 2018-19, the former first-round pick indicated he had considered retirement for a while. The Cincinnati native said he wants to continue playing but knows coming back for a ninth season would not have been the best course of action.

In my heart I know it’s the right thing to do,” Kuechly said (video link). “… There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid – play fast, play physical and play strong. And at this point I don’t know if I am able to do that anymore.”

One of the best players in the Panthers’ 25-year history, Kuechly has anchored Carolina defenses since being selected in the 2012 first round. He started all 118 games in which he played and led the Panthers to four playoff berths from 2013-17. Kuechly broke up J.J. Watt‘s string of defensive player of the year honors, winning the award in 2013. Two years later, he spearheaded Carolina’s 15-1 season and run to Super Bowl 50. Kuechly tore one of his shoulder labrums late that season but played through the injury and started in each of Carolina’s three playoff games, making 10 tackles and sacking Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. But concussion issues obviously overshadow any other malady the Boston College product overcame.

The Panthers middle linebacker missed three games because of his 2015 concussion and one after suffering a head injury in 2017. However, the concussion he suffered on national television in November 2016 ended his season and indicated this may well be a long-term concern for the stalwart defender. While Kuechly racked up two All-Pro seasons after that hiatus, he will prioritize his health instead of playing into his 30s.

No linebacker whose career began in the 21st century has more first-team All-Pro honors than Kuechly’s five. Patrick Willis, who also opted to leave the game after eight seasons, accumulated five such distinctions. Bobby Wagner, who joined Kuechly in the 2012 draft, does as well. No other Panthers player earned more than two first-team All-Pro honors. Kuechly began his career with three 150-tackle seasons and will finish with 1,092 — the most in the NFL since 2012. He added 18 interceptions — the most among linebackers since 2012. He will almost certainly end up in the Hall of Fame.

Two years remained on Kuechly’s five-year, $61.8MM contract. Agreed to in 2015, Kuechly’s deal represented the standard for off-ball linebackers for a time. C.J. Mosley and Wagner transformed that market in 2019, and Kuechly could have been expected to top his peers’ $17MM-plus-AAV deals if he chose to. Instead, he will walk away from a $10.3MM salary in 2020.

The Panthers will have seen their longtime linebacker tandem of Kuechly and Thomas Davis depart in consecutive years. The team recently gave Shaq Thompson a lucrative extension; the 2015 first-round pick will slide into a centerpiece role for Matt Rhule‘s team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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44 comments on “Luke Kuechly Announces Retirement

  1. ron swanson

    Made lots of money, too many head injuries. Don’t blame him for getting out.

  2. axisofhonor25

    Guy said he knew it was right in his heart. He’s got go with that. It comes at a good time too, Panthers are on the verge of a rebuild and are going nowhere fast. Possibly will be without Cam Newton. It’s a good time to retire instead of going through a couple more seasons of play before they are relevant again. Good luck Luke, I hope retirement treats you well.

  3. sportsfan101

    Shocking and sad for nfl fans he was awesome to watch and a class act. But smart for preserving his future.

  4. Whateverworks77

    Hopefully a very smart man as the damage could already be done…good luck to him

  5. dynamite drop in monty

    Luck, now this guy. The league has a problem. They don’t want smart guys who want to accomplish things in life and enjoy their families they want Richie Incognito knuckle draggers who will play after they’ve been beheaded because their “real men”. This antiquated minds set they’ve hitched their wagon to is fading quickly.

    • Whateverworks77

      Sort of agree…but the players that do play get screwed by the health benefits, then other players make false claims to commit insurance fraud, therefore, the smart players will simply retire early in order to not get the shaft while the dumb as…. will become braindead or live with Bubba the white collar criminal…sad

    • DarkSide830

      its an inherently rough game. its not that the league doesnt want smart guys, its that the smart guys realize its not worth risking their bodies anymore. thats just the sport. you hope improvements will be made, but it will still always be somewhat rough.

      • jkoms57

        Exactly. It’s a pro sport. Put it all on the line and step away if you’re lucky enough to have the financial means to.

  6. echozulu88

    Wow…wouldn’t have been as shocking after the rash of concussions he had a few years ago but I guess that did enough of a number on him he decided to not risk more. Loved watching him play.

  7. bryzzo_2016

    Damn, dude is a beast. Good for him, take the money and run before you hurt yourself.

  8. imindless

    Close with ron rivera, carolina is going through a rebuild smart move. Hall of fame caliber despite playing just 8 years.

  9. compassrose

    It was an honor to watch one of the league’s finest LB and men play. I hope there is no long term affects and he can enjoy life. As a Seahawk fan there were some great battles between the teams. Was always fun to watch.

  10. Ramon Garciaparra

    Smart move, like Gronk and Luck before him. Players are realizing that an extra few playing years could ruin the quality of the remainder of their lives and even shorten their life span. Luke is a bright, handsome, personable young man. He will land a good position with one of the tv networks either in the studio or in the booth.

  11. bostonbob

    Good for him. He is using his head the right way and thinking about his future. Too bad he played for a mediocre team and never got a ring.

  12. HailRodgers12$

    Not trying to be “that guy” but I wonder if this will be a temporary thing. Take a year off to either recharge or simply realize he misses it too much and comes back.

    That said, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the NFL (maybe all pro sports) had a rule allowing guys to take a 1 year hiatus (unpaid) and whatever their contract status is when they leave picks up when they come back. Might be a bit tricky with salary cap factors though…

  13. Scott Sandars

    The first NFL jersey I bought was Kuechly (first Australian to do so).. And I don’t regret it. He was an awesome player, I wish him all the best.

    • Tankittothelimit

      First Aussie to do so? Big claim, and I can almost guarantee you’re wrong mate…

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