One of this era’s defining linebackers, Luke Kuechly delivered a stunner Tuesday. The perennial All-Pro announced his retirement at age 28.
Kuechly made his seventh straight Pro Bowl this season. He is a five-time first-team All-Pro. The 28-year-old linebacker has dealt with concussions for years. He suffered three concussions from 2015-17. While Kuechly is not the first player to retire early for 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.
One of the best players in the Panthers’ 25-year history, Kuechly has anchored Carolina defenses since being selected in the first round in 2012. 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. But his concussion issues obviously overshadow any other malady the Boston College product overcame.
No linebacker whose career stretched into 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.