After eight seasons, Luke Kuechly says he's stepping off the football field for good. The Carolina Panthers star linebacker has decided to retire from the NFL at just 28 years old.
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on. It makes me sad because I love playing this game," Kuechly said in a video posted on Twitter. "I've played it since I was a little kid and it's my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and this organization and being on the field with these guys will never go away."
"There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid — is to play fast, play physical and play strong," he continued. "At this point I don't know if I am able to do that anymore. And that's the part that's the most difficult."
Kuechly, who was selected by the Panthers ninth overall in 2012 draft, did not come to the decision easily.
"I still want to play, but I don't think it's the right decision. I thought about it for a long time. I think now is an opportunity to step away with what's going on here," said Kuechly as he fought back tears.
The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year did not detail why he was no longer able to play fast, physical and strong, however he has had a history of missing games due to concussions. After suffering serious concussions in 2016, Kuechly was forced to miss the final six games of the season.
Tributes poured in for the Panthers star from fans, players and the team's owner.
"Beyond his extraordinary performance on the field, Luke has had a tremendous impact on this organization and region," owner David Tepper said in a statement.
"In my two seasons with Luke, I quickly recognized how special of a person he is. The respect he gives and garners from others as well as the positive impact he has on his peers is second to none. It's obviously going to be very difficult for all of us because we know that no player can replace what he's been for this organization for the last eight years. His presence can't be replicated," said Tepper.
Teammate and Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey said he was "honored to have shared the field with not just the best player I've ever seen, but the best person I've ever met."
Kuelchy's announcement makes him the third elite NFL player to retire before age 30 within a year. Last year, three-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowskifrom the NFL at age 29 and later that year, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck also . Gronkowski took to Twitter to congratulate Kuechly on his early retirement and asked the linebacker when he would return to the sport.