In a sudden announcement Tuesday evening, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said that he is retiring from the NFL.
In a video lasting more than three minutes, Kuechly explained the rationale behind his decision.
"In my heart, I know it's the right thing to do...There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid, to play fast, to play physical to play strong. And at this point I don't know if I'm able to do that anymore," he said. "And that's the part that's most difficult. I still want to play, but I don't think it's the right decision."
The 28-year-old LB made seven Pro Bowls throughout his eight-year career with the Panthers. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and first-team All-Pro five times. He was selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Kuechly has played in 16 games in each of the past two seasons, but suffered reported concussions during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons.
He made clear in his retirement announcement that his decision to retire has "nothing to do with" the team's decision to hire Matt Rhule as its next head coach. Rhule was hired in early January to replace Ron Rivera, who was fired toward the end of the 2019 season. Rhule is reportedly bringing LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady with him to the NFL ranks as Brady will be the team's offensive coordinator next season.
Kuechly becomes the second star linebacker to retire in recent memory, citing the physicality of football. Seven-time Pro Bowl LB Patrick Willis retired at age 30 in March of 2015 following an injury-shortened eighth professional season.
He had two years left on his contract with the Panthers, walking away from $10.8 million in 2020.
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on," Kuechly said. "It makes me sad because I love playing this game, I've played it since I was a kid. It's my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and this organization and being on the field with these guys—they'll never go away."