Luke Kuechly

Luke Kuechly To Join Panthers’ Front Office?

Tuesday marked the official end of an era as the Panthers officially placed Luke Kuechly on the reserve/retired list. Now, the linebacker is considering a role in the team’s front office as a pro scout (via Bill Voth of the team website).

[RELATED: Panthers Place Luke Kuechly On Reserve/Retired List]

I think it’s great if it works out if it’s what he wants to do,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “Obviously, the pro side (scouts) are the guys who are evaluating other NFL players. Their mission is twofold: They’re helping us build the roster by finding other guys that fit what we do, and they’re also providing advanced scouting each week on the opponent. If there’s someone who was built for that, it’s probably Luke Kuechly with his preparation and work.”

Kuechly’s tireless work ethic and film review helped propel him to seven Pro Bowl selections, a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, and an appearance in Super Bowl 50. His retirement announcement in January took many by surprise, but few were taken off guard by his reported desire to stay involved with the game of football.

In my heart I know it’s the right thing to do,” Kuechly said earlier this year. “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.”

Kuechly could also advance up the ladder from here. The 29-year-old said to have some interest in coaching as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Place Luke Kuechly On Reserve/Retired List

Months after Luke Kuechly‘s retirement announcement, the Panthers officially placed the perennial All-Pro linebacker on their reserve/retired list, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

By waiting until after June 1 to do so, the Panthers will spread out Kuechly’s $11.8MM in dead money over two years. For 2020, it will create almost $6MM in cap space for the Panthers, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets.

This will give Carolina some additional breathing room, bumping its cap-space figure north of $8MM. That will be necessary for the franchise to sign its draft class, though the Panthers have already signed first-round pick Derrick Brown.

Kuechly retired at 28, with two seasons left on his five-year, $61.8MM contract. The future Hall of Famer would have been set for a mammoth extension, with top peer Bobby Wagner taking the off-ball linebacker market to $18MM per year in 2019 and the Panthers having recently inked Shaq Thompson to a more lucrative deal than the one on which Kuechly finished his career. But Kuechly, who battled concussions in previous years, opted to walk away after eight seasons.

The Panthers attempted to address their considerable void by signing ex-Lions and Raiders starter Tahir Whitehead, who played for Matt Rhule at Temple. Although the Panthers made seven draft picks on defense, they did not use any of those selections on a linebacker.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Brees, Kuechly, O’Brien

Saints coach Sean Payton might’ve accidentally let some big news slip this week. Appearing on ESPN’s ‘Get Up,’ Payton said “the unique situation with our team and quarterback Drew Brees, he’s announced he’s coming back for his final season,” via Katherine Terrell of The Athletic. When Brees elected not to retire this offseason, he said he’d be taking things year by year and didn’t make any official proclamations about this being his last campaign.

Either Payton misspoke, or he let the cat out of the bag. We’ve heard for a while now that the Saints eventually want Taysom Hill to take over as the starting quarterback, and that they plan on utilizing Hill even more this coming season. All the moves they’ve made so far point to one last run with Brees, so it would make sense if he has in fact told them this is his final ride. They’ve signed a 32-year-old Malcolm Jenkins and a 33-year-old Emmanuel Sanders, so they’re clearly all-in on 2020.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Speaking of NFC South retirements, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly surprisingly decided to hang up his cleats this offseason. Interestingly, Carolina still hasn’t officially placed him on the reserve/retired list, according to Joseph Person of The Athletic. Before fans get excited, that’s likely because the Panthers can add $6MM in cap space by waiting until after June 1st to make the move, Person notes. Additionally, a source close to the former Defensive Player of the Year told Person that he has had “no second thoughts” about his decision to retire. We’ve heard the former All-Pro could be eyeing a coaching/consulting gig, and Person writes he has also explored broadcasting opportunities. Kuechly is still only 28, so there’s plenty of time for him to change his mind about his playing career.
  • Texans coach Bill O’Brien caught a lot of flak for his trade of Deandre Hopkins and what he was able to get back in return, and he sought to explain himself a bit Friday. “It was in the best interest of our team. DeAndre Hopkins was a great football player. We loved DeAndre Hopkins He had three years left on his deal and he wanted a raise. David Johnson is going to be a great addition to our football team,” O’Brien said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). O’Brien seemed to confirm that Hopkins’ desire to sweeten his deal was a driving force behind the shocking trade. It’ll be very interesting to see how O’Brien handles the locker room and growing backlash from the fanbase.

Luke Kuechly Eyeing Coaching/Consulting Gig?

Earlier this week, linebacker Luke Kuechly surprised many by announcing his retirement. While the 28-year-old may be done playing in the NFL, it sounds like he has an interest in sticking around the league.

NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo doesn’t think we’ve seen the last of Kuechly, noting that the player could return to the league in a coaching or consulting role (Twitter link). As the reporter notes, the seven-time Pro Bowler was always lauded for being a “coach on the field,” and the veteran was known for his obsession with film. That’d make him a natural fit for any organization.

Of course, Garafolo cautions that teams will give Kuechly some time to figure out the next step of his career, but the reporter also notes that the linebacker could be with an organization in some capacity for the 2020 season. Garafolo specifically mentions the Panthers, the team Kuechly spent his entire eight-year career with, as an organization that’d love to have him in some sort of role.

Meanwhile, Albert Breer of TheMMQB points to Kuechly’s alma matter, Boston College, as a potential fit (Twitter link). Breer say he wouldn’t be surprised if the school tries to add Kuechly to new coach Jeff Hafley’s staff.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Panthers, LB Luke Kuechly Restructure Contract

The Panthers have converted $9.05MM of star linebacker Luke Kuechly‘s 2019 salary into a bonus, per ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter). The move will create an additional $7.24MM of cap space, which is quite significant given that Carolina was only operating with about $1.34MM in cap room prior to the restructure.

This marks the second year in a row that the Panthers have given Kuechly cash upfront in order to create cap space, which can be a dangerous strategy. But Kuechly, who will turn 28 in two days, remains one of the best linebackers in the league and is coming off his fifth First Team All-Pro bid. Considering his importance to the team both now and for the foreseeable future, these reworkings are likely not too difficult for Carolina to stomach.

The team now has some much-needed flexibility heading into next week’s draft, and their newfound cap space will allow the Panthers to re-enter the free agent market should they be unable to fill their remaining needs with collegiate prospects. Plus, their release of Matt Kalil earlier this offseason will add another $7.25MM to their coffers once the calendar flips to June 1.

Kuechly is under contract through 2021.

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Panthers Rework Luke Kuechly’s Contract

The Panthers have restructured star linebacker Luke Kuechly‘s contract by converting $6.8MM of his salary into a signing bonus, per ESPN’s Field Yates (Twitter link). The move gives Kuechly, who is coming off his fourth First Team All-Pro nod, a nice influx of cash while also creating $5.1MM of cap space for Carolina this year.

Kuechly remains under club control through 2021, and while teams generally do not like to convert salary into signing bonus, as it makes it more difficult to cut ties with a player before his contract expires, it seems unlikely that Carolina will want to move on from Kuechly anytime soon. Although the Boston College product has missed a number of games due to concussions, and although he has had surgery on both of his shoulders — indeed, he has not played a full 16-game season since 2014 — he remains the best inside linebacker in the game.

The 27-year-old will once again anchor the middle of the Panthers’ defense in 2018. Carolina made the playoffs last season and is hoping for a return trip this year, but the team’s offensive line is a major cause for concern at the moment. Indeed, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (via Twitter) that LT Matt Kalil is likely to miss at least the first three games of the regular season, and the Panthers have already placed RT Daryl Williams on injured reserve. Plus, left guard Amini Silatolu is dealing with a torn meniscus.

As such, Carolina could use some of its newfound cap space on an offensive lineman or two, and it could also look to upgrade its backup QB and safety situation. Theoretically, the Panthers could also look into an extension for wide receiver Devin Funchess.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Luke Kuechly Underwent Shoulder Surgery

Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly is recovering from shoulder surgery, a source tells the Charlotte Observer’s Joseph PersonLuke Kuechly (vertical)

The procedure was on his right shoulder, not the left one that underwent surgery in 2015 to repair a torn labrum. Kuechly was slated to appear in the Pro Bowl in January but skipped it with an unspecified injury.

Though he played in 15 of 16 games, Kuechly did appear on the injury report with a shoulder issue late in the season in the days leading up to Carolina’s tilt with Green Bay on Dec. 17, Person notes. The injury did not slow down the veteran linebacker, who recorded 125 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries en route to earning his fourth First Team All-Pro selection in the last five seasons.

There was no reported timeline for Kuechly’s recovery but the team is sure to take things slow with their valuable defensive leader. During his six-year career, Kuechly has missed 10 games with injury, all coming in the last three seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Rumors: Davis, Olsen, Kuechly

Thomas Davis provided some clarification about his health this week, making a slight correction to his wife’s assessment of an injury with which he’s dealing. During a TV interview, Kelly Davis said her husband was broken “completely broken ribs” for several weeks. The longest-tenured Panthers player said (via David Newton of ESPN.com) his wife didn’t lie and he is dealing with a broken bone in that area, but only one rib is affected. The 13th-year linebacker added the injury has healed to the point he doesn’t have to treat it any further. The Panthers called Kelly Davis’ comments “heartfelt” but “overstated,” noting Thomas Davis did appear on the team’s injury report for multiple weeks due to a rib ailment. Having started each of Carolina’s seven games this season, the linebacker is not in danger of missing Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers.

Here’s the latest out of Charlotte.

  • Greg Olsen says he’ll test his surgically repaired foot on the field next week, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer writes. That’s when Olsen will first become eligible to resume practicing after going on IR in Week 3. If he’s healthy enough, Olsen could suit up again in mid-November. League rules dictate that players can return from IR after spending eight weeks on the list.
  • Ryan Kalil has played in just two of Carolina’s seven games this season and is unlikely to see action Sunday, although Ron Rivera said the longtime center could play in an emergency situation. Kalil’s dealing with a neck injury, one he aggravated in Week 7 after returning to the lineup. Rivera said (via Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, on Twitter) the Panthers are not ready to discuss an IR move for the 11th-year snapper. Tyler Larsen has started in Kalil’s place.
  • Luke Kuechly is in the final stage of concussion protocol, needing to be cleared by an independent doctor in order to play this week. The All-Pro middle linebacker practiced fully all week, per Newton, and is just more than two weeks removed from the latest concussion he suffered. Signs point to Kuechly playing against the Bucs. Should Kuechly return after missing just one game, it will mark his shortest concussion-induced absence as an NFLer. He missed three games in 2015 and six last season because of head injuries.
  • Rivera added the Panthers will get Kurt Coleman back after three missed games. The safety missed time because of a knee injury.

Zach Links contributed to this report.

NFC Notes: Peterson, Vikings, Kuechly

Bruce Arians came up with the idea for the Cardinals to acquire Adrian Peterson, doing so after his team’s blowout loss to the Eagles. Arians was driving to the team facility when the concept emerged, Lars Anderson of Bleacher Report notes. The Cardinals coach watched every Peterson carry with the Saints to make sure the 32-year-old future Hall of Famer still had enough to be a solution for an Arizona rushing attack that still ranks last in the league because of its anemic start. Arians then took the idea to Steve Keim, who called Saints GM Mickey Loomis, Anderson reports.

He ran hard and could get something out of nothing,” Arians said. “We had finesse backs on our team. I was looking for that power guy. He was it, brother, he was it.”

Immediately installed as Arizona’s starter, Peterson turned back the clock and rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in his Cardinals debut. The former five-time All-Pro said previously he wants to play into his late 30s, but that dialogue stopped in New Orleans. But Peterson has resumed that talking point now as a Cardinal, eyeing “four or five” more seasons.

I felt like my ability was going to waste in New Orleans,” Peterson said, via Anderson. “The system just wasn’t a good fit for me. But I still want to play four or five more years. I still can run a high-4.3 40. And I’ve always loved getting the ball deep in the backfield, which is what we’re doing here. I feel like I’m built for this offense.”

Here’s the latest from the NFC, shifting to Peterson’s first two NFL employers.

  • The Vikings are starting Case Keenum again this week, the team announced. Mike Zimmer, though, said he believes Sam Bradford will play again this season, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. This will be Keenum’s fifth start of the year. Bradford’s status has gone from somewhat surprising inactive in Week 2 to being potentially out for six weeks to having the knee be categorized as worse than what’s been reported. Bradford consulted with a specialist last week, Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com notes. The eighth-year quarterback saw this same specialist previously, per Zimmer. Teddy Bridgewater returned to practice but likely remains far away from playing in a game.
  • Luke Kuechly will miss the Panthers‘ Week 7 tilt against the Bears after suffering a concussion in Week 6. David Mayo will replace Kuechly at middle linebacker, Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk notes. Kuechly has missed time because of concussions in each of the past two seasons but was progressing in the protocol earlier this week.
  • Minnesota will also be without Stefon Diggs this weekend, with the Vikes’ No. 1 wide receiver set to miss a second straight game because of a groin injury.
  • Saints practice squad offensive lineman Cameron Tom recently had his salary bumped to $27K+ per week, according to a source who spoke with Nick Underhill of The Advocate. He was previously making $7,200 per week. Assuming he stays on the taxi squad through the end of the season, he’ll earn $344K as opposed to $122K. His weekly pay is now equal to a minimum salaried player on the 53-man roster ($465K). It’s a sign that the Saints think highly of Tom and that other teams have thought about signing him away.

Zach Links contributed to this report.