In an ideal world, NFL retirements would work like the end of Rudy, with a triumphant player being carried off the field following one final game. Real life, however, doesn’t work that way. Retirement isn’t usually a happy or glamorous moment; Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly demonstrated that reality when he suddenly called it a career on Tuesday night.
Kuechly is only 28-years-old and had a strong 2019 campaign. So why did the linebacker decide to retire suddenly?
Luke Kuechly’s impressive football career
During his high school career, Luke Kuechly was regarded as a three-star college recruit. At the time, no one realized how dominant of a force he would become.
The linebacker enrolled at Boston College and, after Mark Herzlich’s cancer diagnosis, found himself in the starting lineup. Despite his freshman status, Kuechly thrived, racking up 158 total tackles; unsurprisingly, he finished the campaign with ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He would set the B.C. record for total tackles the next year and, as a junior, took home the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
The two-time All-American then declared for the NFL draft; the Carolina Panthers selected him ninth overall in 2012. The linebacker made an instant impact at the professional level, piling up 164 total tackles and winning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. One season later, he would follow it up with Defensive Player of the Year honors. No matter what else changed around the NFL, Kuechly remained constant; he would post over 100 tackles, pull down a few interceptions, and play elite all-around defense.
On Tuesday night, however, everything changed.
Luke Kuechly suddenly retires
So far during this offseason, the Carolina Panthers have been retooling their coaching staff. On Tuesday night, though, the team made a different sort of announcement: Luke Kuechly was retiring.
“I think now is the right chance for me to move on,” the linebacker explained. “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.
“In my heart I know it’s the right thing to do,” he continued. “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.”
While it’s not clear why Kuechly can’t play that sort of game anymore, football has taken a toll on the linebacker. He has suffered three officially diagnosed concussions during his career and has worn an experimental collar, which theoretically could reduce the risk of concussions, on the field. Kuechly also had multiple shoulder surgeries.
Regardless of the reason, the linebacker is looking out for number one
Selfishly, fans hate to see any talented player retire. Luke Kuechly, however, is absolutely right in looking after himself.
As much as NFL fans love football, the game can be incredibly brutal. We’ve seen players suffer for the rest of their lives from taking things too far on the field; guys like Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck have called it a career hoping to avoid that reality. Marshawn Lynch has spoken about the need for players to take care of their health and their money, so they can truly enjoy retirement. Even if Kuechly’s decision wasn’t medically motivated, there’s nothing wrong with getting out while the getting is good.
From Thursday through Monday, football might seem like the end-all, be-all, but there’s a whole world beyond the gridiron. After a dominant career, Luke Kuechly deserves the chance to spend some time enjoying it.