Longtime Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly announced Tuesday evening that he is retiring from football. It was an unexpected announcement from the 28 year old, who made seven Pro Bowls in eight seasons.
In an emotional video posted on the Panthers' Twitter account, Kuechly gave a three and a half minute speech explaining his decision.
"I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play this game since I was in fourth grade," Kuechly said. "I've been with the Panthers now for eight years and it's never the right time to step away but now is the right time for me. It's a tough decision, I've thought about it a lot and I think now is the right chance for me to move on."
Kuechly said that he hopes to still be involved in some way, and he thanked all of the coaches who helped him during the course of his career. With Ron Rivera being fired and Matt Rhule taking over, Kuechly made sure to mention that his decision had nothing to do with the new coaching staff.
"There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid is to play fast and play physical and to play strong," Kuechly said. "At this point, I don't know if I'm able to do that anymore and that's the part that is the most difficult ... I still want to play but I don't think it's the right decision."
On the Pick Six Podcast, Will Brinson and Sean Wagner-McGough recorded an emergency podcast to break down Kuechly's decision and his legacy. Listen below and subscribe here wherever you get podcasts.
Kuechly was drafted No. 9 overall by the Panthers in the 2012 NFL Draft. He made an impact for the Panthers from the very start, as the former Boston College star recorded a career-high 164 combined tackles, one sack, eight passes defensed and one interception in his very first NFL season. In his second season, he picked up the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and then helped the Panthers advance to Super Bowl 50 in his fourth season. Carolina lost to the Denver Broncos, 24-10, but Kuechly made 10 combined tackles and one sack.
He was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a five-time First-Team All-Pro and a two-time NFL tackling leader. Kuechly was the heart and soul of the Panthers' defense, and recorded over 100 tackles in each of his eight seasons.
The Panthers' defensive captain steps away from football having recorded 1,092 combined tackles, 12.5 sacks, 67 passes defensed and 18 interceptions. His 690 solo tackles are second in Panthers' franchise history -- behind only linebacker Thomas Davis.
"Words can't describe who Luke Kuechly is as a person, friend and teammate," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen wrote on Twitter. "We have shared countless memories together both on the field and away from it. I feel honored to be his friend and I'll always appreciate the impact he has had on my life. Love you buddy."