Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly is retiring from the NFL after eight seasons with the team.
“It’s never the right time to step away, but now is the right time for me,” Kuechly, 28, said Tuesday in a video announcing his decision.
Kuechly expressed doubt that he could still play as physically as he’d like.
“There’s only one way to play this game … to play fast and play physical and 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 is most difficult, is — I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision.”
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“In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s hard, but that’s why you play this game, to form relationships, and if you’ve formed strong relationships, they never go away.”
Kuechly suffered three concussions during his career and was in tears when he was carted off the field with a concussion during the 2016 season, The Associated Press reported, but he made no reference to that in his video announcement, which was posted to the team’s Twitter account.
Kuechly was credited with 1,092 tackles, 12 sacks and 18 interceptions during his career with the Panthers. He was selected for the Pro Bowl seven times and was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. This season, he had 144 tackles and two interceptions.
The Panthers credited him with helping to get the team to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, citing interceptions returned for touchdowns in the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos.
The Panthers said Kuechly was one of the best linebackers the game has ever seen and one of the greatest players in franchise history.
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The team, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently reached an agreement to bring on Matt Rhule as head coach. Kuechly said that had nothing to do with his decision, adding: “He’s going to do a fantastic job. His track record’s proven.”
Kuechly “has had a tremendous impact on this organization and region,” and “his presence can’t be replicated,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in a statement.
Kuechly thanked the players, the coaches, the staff and everyone in the organization and said he felt fortunate to have played with the team. “It’s hard, but I hope to still be involved in some way,” he said.