CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly appears to have no second thoughts on the difficult decision he made to retire from the NFL at age 28.
In a conversation with Mike Tirico on NBC Sports Network on Friday, Kuechly, who was named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade team this week, expanded on the fact that his decision to retire wasn’t finalized in his mind until the conclusion of the season. He also re-confirmed that his decision to retire wasn’t because of the change in coaching staff.
“As the season concluded, I really kind of sat back and thought about it. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to play the game for eight years and the people around me were fantastic, everybody in the Carolina Panthers organization treated me well, they taught me a lot … I couldn’t ask for a better situation once the season ended,” Kuechly said on NBCSN. “I just knew that, you know, I had given everything I had, to be honest with you I was done at that point. It had nothing to do with changes in coaches or anything like that, I just think I knew in my heart that I gave everything I had and, at this point, it was time to move in a different direction.”
Kuechly made the decision to retire after spending eight seasons with the Panthers, who selected him ninth overall in the 2012 draft out of Boston College. The linebacker has a history of concussions, with at least three reported cases from 2015-17. In his career, Kuechly missed just 10 games, and none since the 2017 season.
Players retiring at a young age, like Kuechly, has become more of a common theme in the NFL as of late. Cowboys center Travis Frederick, 29, announced his retirement last month after seven seasons in the NFL, including dealing with Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system, that kept him out of the 2018 season.
In terms of what is next, Kuechly, the former Defensive Player of the Year, said that he’s taking his time to go over all of his options and what makes the most sense to him including exploring broadcasting, coaching or a front office role.
“I think when guys come in on Fridays and Saturdays and you talk to the production crew, you talk to guys like (Jason) Witten and guys that have played, like (Tony) Romo, and Ronde (Barber) … Those guys, you can tell that they played at a high level and they still have the ability to stay involved with the game,” Kuechly said. “I think that part is something that’s attractive to me.”
The former linebacker also said he has spoken frequently with Chase Blackburn, his former teammates and the Panthers’ special teams coordinator, about getting into coaching. Kuechly said that Blackburn told him it’s the closest thing he’s felt to playing in games.
While Kuechly has moved on from the game, Cam Newton, his teammate of eight seasons, is still looking for a job after the Panthers released him in March.
“I think there’s a model that’s kind of in place right now with what (Ryan) Tannehill did in Tennessee, you come in as the backup and as a season progresses you get an opportunity, but … obviously New England’s in the conversation, I think the Chargers are in the conversation,” Kuechly said. “I think Cam, he gets back to being healthy, he’s still a dangerous threat, you look at what he’s done in the past couple years, minus his injuries, he’s been fantastic for us, I think the thing that makes Cam special is what he can do inside the pocket but also what you can do with his legs. To me, you know, once he gets everything back healthy, he’s gonna be back to where he was before.”
Playing alongside and spending time with teammates such as Newton are among the things Kuechly, a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-Team All-Pro, explained he would miss most once the football season returns.
“I love the game of football, I love everything about it, I love the studying aspect, I love the team aspect … I’m gonna miss the interaction, the guys, you know, every day,” Kuechly said. “I know when the season comes around I’m going to have that pit in my stomach knowing that, man, I wish I was still out there, but I think you look at it in the sense that you have a long life to live, what’s the best thing for right now? You have to make hard decisions in your life, I think this is one of the harder ones I’ve had to make. Hopefully I can find a way to stay involved in football somehow.”
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