Luke Kuechly's Retirement

See you in Canton big dude.

Jim Rome
January 15, 2020 - 11:05 am
Luke Kuechly

USA Today

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Yesterday was quite a day for the Carolina Panthers. First, you had the news that Joe Brady, the star co-offensive coordinator at LSU, was joining the Panthers as offensive coordinator. If you’re looking to hire the hottest offensive mind in football, it doesn’t get much hotter than getting the guy who just coached Joe Burrow to the greatest season a college quarterback has ever had. 

And it doesn’t get much fresher than announcing it less than 24 hour after the confetti fell in New Orleans.

That is another sharp move for David Tepper. First, get Matt Rhule one of the most respected coaches in college football. Then chase that with Joe Brady, one of the most stunning assistants in college football, and a guy who has experience in the NFC South with the Saints. It doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work out and that the Panthers will be stacking trophies. But it’s a good start.

And then came the next piece of news from Charlotte. And it was a stunner. BUT not in a good way.

That’s Luke Kuechly, in the Carolina Panthers linebacker’s room, recording a video telling everyone that he’s retiring. 

It’s shocking and yet, at the same time, it’s not. 7-time Pro Bowler. Member of 7 All-Pro teams, including a five times as a first team all-pro. Defensive rookie of the year. Defensive player of the year. And he’s retiring at 28 years old.

The shocking part isn’t that he’s retiring at 28, it’s that he’s only 28. Because it felt like he had been in Carolina forever. That’s how quickly he became a dominant player, practically from the moment he arrived, and how much of a mainstay he was in Carolina. And now he’s leaving. Well before his 30th birthday. 

And while he didn’t explain why he’s leaving, the speculation would be that it’s connected to his health and the impact the game takes on your body. Especially when you play the game the way he played – hard and fast. 

He’s had three known concussions and multiple shoulder surgeries. And I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more haunting image than Kuechly, sobbing, in 2016 as he was carted off the field. That image is scary as hell. And whenever I’ve heard his name since then, it was one of the first things I always think of.

If you want to know the respect he has from teammates and opponents, check out the reaction from players on Twitter. I could be all day reading it, but here are a couple mentions:

Eric Reid: After playing with Patrick Willis I didn’t think it was possible for me to touch the field with another LB of his caliber. Then I went to Carolina. Enjoy retirement Luke Kuechly.

Torrey Smith: Easily one of my favorite teammates and one of the top 3 best players that I’ve seen. Can’t wait to see what’s next for you!

Riverboat Ron himself: I had the privilege of playing next to Hall of Famer Mike Singletary & coaching Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher & Luke Kuechly is worthy of that honor someday. But more important I will remember Luke’s sense of humor, his leadership & for being a great teammate.

Tre Boston: One of the Best Teammates I’ve ever had! The 1st person you meet when you come into the locker room. Always told people I’d teach my son to be like you! You’re the model of The Standard! Future HOFer! Proud to call you one of the bros! One heck of a career! Love you bro! LUUUUKE!

From the people who were around him, that’s a guy who loved the game and was loved by the game and the guys who played it. 

And retiring is absolutely the right call. Do not confuse with this not being hungry or not wanting to play anymore. That doesn’t look like a guy who hates football or doesn’t want to play anymore. 

If you watch that video, you’ll see a guy who loves the game and is absolutely crushed by the decision that he’s made, but he knows it’s the right one. 

The goal of every player in the league is to be able to leave on their own terms. This is different than me talking to Lorenzo Alexander who’s leaving after 15 seasons in the league. 

This is someone who is 28 years old, who theoretically is still in his prime, but has made the move to walk away. And in doing so, he joins Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski as the third elite player in the last year to retire before the age of 30. And they all join guys like Patrick Willis and Calvin Johnson who retired early before them.

Each one might have had slightly different reasons for retiring and all of them made the right call. Good for them. That is great. Get in, dominate, make money, and walk away. 

Seriously, I don’t know Luke Kuechly personally, but I could not be happier for Kuechly. He played the game at a truly elite level and now is walking away, with his health, hopefully.

There better not be anyone who is cracking on him for this decision or questioning his toughness or his commitment. Don’t bring that crap in here. 

If you’re angry or bitter about Luke Kuechly retiring, and that says everything about you, and nothing about him... What’s better – him walking away now or playing for a number of years to come and suffering long-term damage? Would that make you happy?

I know it wouldn’t make me happy. 

Luke Kuechly should be celebrated. Not that he’s thinking about it now, but see you in Canton big dude.