Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly shocked the sports world and, in particular, the NFL on Wednesday. The All-Pro announced his retirement from the game he loves.
Players retire every year, so that’s not what was so shocking about Kuechly’s announcement. Of course, Luke Kuechly has shown amazing talent over the years. He’s an eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro linebacker. Yet he decided to hang up his cleats at the young age of 28.
That’s young even by NFL standards, especially when you consider the fact that Tom Brady is still playing at 42-years-old. It’s not entirely unrealistic to believe that Kuechly could have played for 10-12 more years in the NFL. On paper, Luke should be in the prime of his career.
However, a linebacker like Kuechly has basically been participating in mini car-wrecks for the past eight years. That’s not even including his college or high school career.
Besides running back, linebacker is likely the most physical player on the field. Usually, the linebacker is the one delivering the hit instead of taking it. It’s a grueling position, especially at the speed and level of physicality that Kuechly has played at.
Loving The Game Isn’t Enough To Risk Your Life
Luke Kuechly made it very clear that two factors led to his retirement, with his health being prime among them.
Just look at the level he has played at since being drafted by the Panthers No. 9 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Luke Kuechly made it clear in his retirement statement that his body just can’t live up to that standard anymore. Kuechly said in a video to ESPN:
“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. That’s the part that is the most difficult.”
Kuechly expressed that he still loves the game, and that’s what has made it hard for him. However, he clearly feels that his body can’t hold up in the hear and now. That’s not even to mention what his health and overall standard-of-life will look like in 20-30 years.
We know that the NFL game has been brutal on former players, and Kuechly’s injury history is certainly concerning when considering his long-term future.
It makes sense that he’s walked away. The game of football has clearly been good to him, but it has also clearly made its mark as well.
One can assume that walking away was hard for the man, yet the fact that he can walk away at all is important. We’ve seen people become paralyzed on the field before. Ryan Shazier is STILL trying to make it back, after all.
The question for Luke Kuechly was, is it worth coming back only to risk his life doing so? That’s clearly a no, thankfully.
Football Has Taken Its Toll On Luke Kuechly
Kuechly, a 6-foot-3, 238lbs inside linebacker, was known to deliver the hurt on the gridiron. However, he took his fair share of beatings as well. In particular, the linebacker’s history of head injuries has been concerning. It was an open secret that retirement was possible for the Pro-Bowler since the 2017 NFL season.
We know, without a doubt, that Kuechly has suffered at least three concussions as a player in the NFL. Per SportsInjuryPredictor.com, he suffered a Grade 2 concussion early in the 2015 season, a Grade 3 concussion midway through the 2016 season and a Grade 1 concussion early in the 2018 season.
That’s three significant head injuries in three years, and those aren’t the only injuries he suffered.
Along with his concussion history, Kuechly also had two rounds of offseason surgery due to injury. A Week 17 labrum tear in his shoulder forced offseason surgery after the 2015-16 season. This was after he played through the injury in the post-season.
Kuechly also suffered through offseason shoulder surgery after the end of the 2017 season.
Off-season sugary to fix torn shoulders, knees, and ligaments aren’t rare for NFL players. However, Kuechly’s concussion history had to be extremely worrying for him as he evaluated both this decision and his long-term future.
We now know much more about CTE, a neurodegenerative brain disease caused by repeated head injuries. It’s incredibly common in former NFL players, especially linebackers.
Thus, it makes complete sense that Luke decided to hang up his cleats — even at 28-years-old.
A Worrying Trend For The NFL
NFL players clearly know the risks of the game they play. Concussion protocols and an expanded focus on player safety has been a major focus for the league over the past five-to-ten years. However, one can’t help but wonder if Kuechly’s decision to retire in his prime is part of a trend.
A trend that will continue as even star players realize that the obvious benefits of being an NFL player may not be worth the long-term ramifications.
Kuechly’s retirement isn’t even the most shocking from this current NFL cycle. Remember, Indianapolis Colts star Andrew Luck retired at 29 before this season even began. Luck was expected to be one of the next great quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet he cited injuries as the reason he decided to leave the game well in the middle of his prime.
New England Patriots superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski also retired this past offseason at 29-years-old. He too cited brain injuries as the major reason he left the game. Keep in mind, football made him one of the most popular sports figures in the United States, if not the world.
Especially in regard to head injuries, we know about the ones that were officially diagnosed. It would not be surprising to learn that many, if not most, NFL players have suffered far more damage playing the game that what we — or they — realize.
A Strong Legacy
Despite the fact that he’s leaving the game way before his time, Luke Kuechly should go down as one of the better linebackers in NFL history. While 8 years seems like a short time period, it’s actually pretty good when you look at some of the best defensive players in history.
Luke Kuechly’s numbers actually stand up well with some top names in the football world.
He’ll finish his career having played in 118 games, having started every game he played in. In those 118 contests, Kuechly notched 1,092 tackles (690 solo), 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, seven forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns.
He was a warrior on the football field, but even warriors have their limits. We hope to see Luke involved in the game in other ways or find something else he can love just as much in retirement.