It’s been roughly three months since Luke Kuechly walked away from football at 28 years old.
Much has changed in the world and the Panthers‘ universe since the All-Pro linebacker’s unexpected exit, but what hasn’t changed is Kuechly’s confidence in his decision to quit playing while he was ahead.
“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 told NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico on Friday, per The Charlotte Observer. “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 retired on Jan. 14 following his eighth season in the league, all of which had been spent in Carolina. A five-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler, Kuechly is assuredly on his way to Canton. Whether he makes a pit stop in a broadcasting booth, a front office or a coach’s office before then is up to him.
“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 told Tirico. “I think that part is something that’s attractive to me.”
Under new coach Matt Rhule, Carolina moved on from Kuechly and others quickly. Just last month, the Panthers swapped out former MVP quarterback Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater. Kuechly, who played his entire career with Newton, said that the QB, who like Kuechly has been set back by injuries, still has a bright future in the league.
“I think Cam, he gets back to being healthy, he’s still a dangerous threat,” Kuechly said. “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.”
Kuechly was just one of many young football players, seemingly at the peak of their prowess, to call it quits in the last year or so, including Rob Gronkowski, Andrew Luck and Travis Frederick.
As of now, Kuechly says he doesn’t miss the grind of football or the wear or tear the game can inflict on his body and mind. But the Panthers linebacker mused that he expects to long for the camaraderie of the sport soon enough, if and when training camp comes back around.
“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.”