Luke Kuechly

Panthers’ Post-Rhule Fallout: Termination, Replacement, Trades

The NFL news circuit was set ablaze today when news broke of the firings of Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The termination of Rhule was not necessarily a surprise, as he’s been firmly on the hot seat all year and the possibility of firing Rhule had been discussed “well before” today, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, but it did create a newsworthy fallout of information that is of interest to those who follow the sport.

Many have talked about the contract implications of Rhule’s termination, alluding to the millions of dollars still remaining on his contract. While it’s completely applicable to Rhule’s situation, it doesn’t sound like it is a concern to Carolina. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out that “Carolina is on the hook for this season, but the salaries for the ensuing seasons are offset by what his future college job pays him.” Essentially, Rhule will absolutely get his guaranteed money, but the onus won’t be on Carolina to pay it. Whenever Rhule, who is presumed to be a top college coaching candidate for next year, gets another job, his salary from the new school will offset the amount the Panthers owe him.

It was also announced that Panthers defensive passing game coordinator & secondary coach Steve Wilks will sub in as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The defensive-minded former head coach of the Cardinals has apparently already begun to make the team his own. When Panthers owner David Tepper was asked why Snow was fired, he reportedly pointed the finger at Wilks, telling reporters to direct that question to the interim head coach, according to ESPN’s David Newton.

Here are a few more fallout items from today, starting with some ideas on Rhule’s replacement:

  • The biggest nugget to come out of today concerning Carolina is that, as most NFL executives expected Rhule to lose his job, many in league circles are expecting the Panthers to start dealing veteran assets in an attempt to accrue draft capital that might make the head coaching position more attractive, according to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. The Panthers currently only hold four draft picks for 2023: first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks, supporting the idea that trading away veterans could improve their current situation. Trading away veterans with expensive contracts, such as star running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Robbie Anderson, could prove troublesome, according to La Canfora, so the Panthers are reportedly willing to eat some of those salaries in order to facilitate moving those assets. Early reports claimed that the Bills have reached out about McCaffrey and that they did in the offseason, as well, according to Person, but Tom Pelissero of NFL Network clarified that, while every team will be calling about McCaffrey, the Panthers haven’t engaged in any trade talks yet. In addition to McCaffrey and Anderson, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports expects wide receiver D.J. Moore, defensive end Brian Burns, and defensive tackle Derrick Brown to be on the table.
  • Jeff Howe of The Athletic posed the question today of who might replace Rhule and offered quite a few suggestions. Howe started the list with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who took the Falcons to the Super Bowl as head coach in 2016. Next, he mentioned 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Ryans interviewed for the Vikings’ job this offseason and was expected to interview for the Raiders’, as well. The 38-year-old has rocketed up coaching boards since retiring as a player in 2015. Another name mentioned was Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon who also interviewed for the Vikings last year, in addition to the Texans and Broncos. Howe went into great detail on every candidate, seeming to list anybody who may be up for a head coaching job in the next few seasons. His list included former NFL head coaches including the retired Sean Payton, Steelers senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, as well as the current interim head coach, Wilks. Other serious candidates Howe mentioned were Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The list essentially devolved into an article about anybody who may make the jump to NFL head coach in the next few seasons, pointing out “wait and see” candidates such as Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, and Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
  • One interesting name that came out of today’s rumors was former Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. Joe Person of The Athletic advised that an eye be kept on Kuechly, who remains close with Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, to come back in some capacity. After retiring from a pro scout position last year, Kuechly has been working as an analyst on Panthers radio broadcasts.

Front Office Notes: Panthers, Kuechly, Texans

Scott Fitterer is looking to add to his staff.’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the Panthers have requested permission to interview Bills director of player personnel Dan Morgan for their assistant GM job. The organization has also reached out to the Eagles about interviewing director of player personnel Ian Cunningham for the assistant GM gig, via Rapoport on Twitter.

Morgan, of course, was a first-round pick by the Panthers back in 2001. The linebacker spent the first seven seasons of his career with Carolina, including a 2004 campaign where he made his lone Pro Bowl appearance. Following his playing career, Morgan joined the Seahawks front office, and he’s been in his current role with Buffalo since 2018.

Cunningham’s front office career started in Baltimore, and he joined the Eagles organization as director of college scouting in 2017. The executive was promoted to his current gig in 2019. As Eagles reporter Geoff Mosher points out (on Twitter), Panthers director of player personnel Patrick Stewart previously served as Philly’s national scout, so the front office has a connection to the Eagles.

Let’s check out some more front office notes from around the NFL…

  • While the Panthers are looking to add to their front office, the team has also lost a valuable (and very popular scout). Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that Panthers legend Luke Kuechly resigned from his role as pro scout. The former Defensive Player of the Year took on the role after retiring as a player last offseason. Panthers reporter Joe Person tweets that Kuechly wants to spend more time with his family before deciding the next steps of his career.
  • The Texans and director of pro personnel Rob Kisiel have mutually decided to part ways, according to Albert Breet of TheMMQB (via Twitter). Kisiel had been with the organization since the beginning, first serving as a scout before eventually making his way up to director of pro personnel.
  • Speaking of the Texans, the front office hired former Patriots pro scout Ronnie McGill prior to the draft, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter). Houston GM Nick Caserio has had a habit of stealing talent from New England, and it makes sense that he’d have his eyes on McGill. The former college running back had been with the Patriots organization since 2010.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.