Luke Kuechly is walking away from the NFL at 28.
In a stunning move Tuesday night, the Carolina Panthers linebacker and former NFL defensive player of the year announced he was retiring from football.
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on," Kuechly said in a statement. "It makes me sad because I love playing this game, I've played it since I was a kid. 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 – they'll never go away.
"In my heart I know it's the right thing to do… 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."
Though he did not cite head injuries in his statement, Kuechly missed nine games due to concussions from 2015-16 and suffered three known ones in his eight-year career.
Kuechly steps away from the game as one of the premier defenders of his generation. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time all-pro, he quickly established himself as one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL.
In 2013, he was selected as defensive player of the year in only his second year after serving as the catalyst for the league's second-ranked defense. Two years later, he and MVP Cam Newton helped power Carolina to Super Bowl 50.
After being selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 draft, the Boston College product led the NFL in tackles with 164 and was named defensive rookie of the year.
The Panthers made the playoffs in four of his eight seasons.
"Beyond his extraordinary performance on the field, Luke has had a tremendous impact on this organization and region," owner David Tepper told the team's website. "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."
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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