Former NFL defensive player of the year, Luke Kuechly, a star linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, announced his retirement from pro football in a video statement Tuesday.
“For me, now is the right opportunity to move in a different direction,” Kuechly, a five-time, first-team All-Pro, said. “There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid is to play fast and to play physical and to play strong, and at this point I don’t know that anymore.”
Fighting back tears, Kuechly said, “And that’s the part that the most difficult is I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision.”
Kuechly, 28, played eight seasons for the Panthers after a collegiate career at Boston College.
In his NFL career, Kuechly was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and the 2017 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award winner.
“He’s been in the middle of it all for the last eight years,” the team tweeted. “No one did it better.”
Since 2012 no NFL player had more tackles that Kuechly, who had 1,092.
Former Panthers coach Ron Rivera tweeted: “I had the privilege of playing next to HOF #MikeSingletary & coaching HOF (Brian Urlacher) @BUrlacher54 & @LukeKuechly is worthy of that honor someday. But more important I will remember Luke’s sense of humor, his leadership & 4 being a great teammate.”
Kuechly’s teammate, running back Christian McCaffrey said Kuechly was great off the field.
“Thank you for some of the best memories both on and off the field,” McCaffrey wrote. “I’m so honored to have shared the field with not just the best player I’ve ever seen, but the best person I’ve ever met. Will always love you bro! To retirement.”
In 2016 Kuechly suffered a concussion in a nationally televised game that left him crying and gasping for air. It was the second concussion he had had in two years, according to an article in Sports Illustrated the next season, titled: “Luke Kuechly Is the Poster Child for the NFL’s Concussion Problem.”
It said Kuechly had concussions in 2015, 2016 and possibly 2017.
According to Spotrac, he had two years left on his contract at more than $10 million per season.