Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly announces retirement

Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) is seen on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Linebacker Luke Kuechly announced that he’s retiring from the NFL at age 28, after eight seasons with the Panthers.

“It’s never the right time to step away,” Kuechly said in a video posted on the team’s Twitter account, “but now is the right time for me.”

Kuechly battled concussions, missing time in three straight seasons, from 2015 to 2017. However, he hasn’t been in the league’s concussion protocol in the last two years.

The Panthers fired coach Ron Rivera during the season and hired Baylor’s Matt Rhule last week, but Kuechly said the retirement has nothing to do with the coaching moves.

“This decision has nothing to do with new coaches and Coach Rhule,” he said. “He’s going to do a fantastic job. His track record is proven. But for me, now is the right opportunity to move in a different direction.”

Kuechly won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and was the youngest-ever winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award. He was chosen for seven Pro Bowls and named All-Pro seven times. His 1,092 tackles and 18 interceptions since joining the NFL in 2012 is more than any other player over that span.

“There’s only one way to play this game, since I was a little kid, is to play fast and play physical and play strong,” Kuechly said, battling tears and stopping several times after getting choked up. “At this point, I’m not sure if I’m able to do that anymore. That’s the part that is most difficult. I still want to play, but I don’t think it’s the right decision. I’ve thought about it for a long time and I think now is an opportunity to step away with what’s going on here.”

Kuechly filmed his video in the Panthers’ linebackers room.

“It’s a tough decision,” he said. “I’ve thought about it a lot and I think now is the right chance for me to move on. It makes me sad because I love playing this game. I’ve played it since I was a little kid. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and organization and playing on the field with these guys…they’ll never go away. … The amount of memories I’ve had in this room alone could fill a book.”