The Panthers have had a good week . . . until Tuesday night. That’s when Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his retirement.
“I think now is the right chance for me to move on,” Kuechly said, via Max Henson of the team website. “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… 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.”
New coach Matt Rhule will not have one of the greatest players in franchise history to build around on his defense.
Kuechly, 28, played eight NFL seasons and made seven Pro Bowls and five first-team AP All-Pro nods.
He also was defensive player of the year in 2013 and defensive rookie of the year in 2012.
“Beyond his extraordinary performance on the field, Luke has had a tremendous impact on this organization and region,” owner David Tepper said. “In my two seasons with Luke, I quickly recognized how special of a person he is. The respect he gives and garners from others as well as the positive impact he has on his peers is second to none. It’s obviously going to be very difficult for all of us because we know that no player can replace what he’s been for this organization for the last eight years. His presence can’t be replicated.”
Kuechly made 1,092 tackles, the most in the NFL since he entered the league. His 18 interceptions are most by a linebacker since 2012 and third-most in franchise history. His 75 tackles for loss are tied for fifth among linebackers over that span.