Kuechly released a video announcing his decision.
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on," Kuechly said in the video message. "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.” pic.twitter.com/mSDyJ0iEMw— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
"Beyond his extraordinary performance on the field, Luke has had a tremendous impact on this organization and region," Panthers owner David Tepper said of Kuechly. "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." He went on to call Kuechly "a once-in-a-generation player and someone we want every member of this organization to emulate."
While he doesn't explicitly say it, the numerous concussions that Kuechly sustained throughout his career probably played an important part in his decision to call it quits. In 2015, the seven-time Pro Bowler missed three games when he remained in concussion protocol for 34 days.
The following year, Kuechly suffered another concussion with the searing image being him crying as he was taken off the field on a cart.
Kuechly ended up sitting out the final six games of the season. Despite that heartbreaking sight of a tearful Kuechly, he continued playing, and in 2017, he was placed on concussion protocol for the third time in as many years.
Kuechly has managed to play every single game the last two seasons.
Scroll down to read reactions to Kuechly's surprising announcement below.
Words can’t describe who Luke Kuechly is as a person, friend, and teammate. We have shared countless memories together both on the field and away from it. I feel honored to be his friend and I’ll always appreciate the impact he has had on my life. Love you buddy pic.twitter.com/0DHYkOwDp1— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) January 15, 2020
Luke kuechly is one of most pure and authentic people i’ve met! He was a great teammate and friend! honored to have played with you! The gridiron will miss your presence but I’m excited to see what the next chapter has for you! love you Bro! #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/0a6k4urcRu— Jonathan Stewart (@Jonathanstewar1) January 15, 2020
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! https://t.co/zrDa2mo2HU— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) January 15, 2020
Thank you for some of the best memories both on and off the field. I’m so honored to have shared the field with not just the best player I’ve ever seen, but the best person I’ve ever met. Will always love you bro! To retirement🍻🎣@LukeKuechly— Christian McCaffrey (@CMC_22) January 15, 2020
As a fellow linebacker in the 2012 draft, Luke Kuechly was the cream of the crop.— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) January 15, 2020
I respect the hell out of his decision to retire. He missed 3 games in ‘15, & the final 6 games of ‘16 with a concussion. He is a hall of famer, but life is more than football. pic.twitter.com/O7ep4ZxjJP
The face, the heart, the soul of our defense.https://t.co/3SaWsUHL9k— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
Six months ago, I could have imagined Andrew Luck and Luke Kuechly as the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL this season and years beyond.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 15, 2020
Now, two incredible players both are retired.
Luke Kuechly doesn’t specify his reasons for stepping away, saying only that the way to play this game is “fast and physical and strong” and he doesn’t feel he can do that now. https://t.co/tVAAtSKYky— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 15, 2020
Luke Kuechly is a 9-time Pro Bowler and 7-time All Pro. He suffered at least three known concussions between the 2015 and 2017 seasons. He retires from the game at 28 years old.— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) January 15, 2020
.@LukeKuechly you played the game how it was meant to be played...like a true bad-ass that was out there to hit everything and anything that moved and wore a different colored jersey. Best of luck to you. All the respect.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 15, 2020
Panthers LB Panthers LB Luke Kuechly has announced he is retiring.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2020
Since entering the NFL in 2012, Kuechly led all LBs in tackles, interceptions and pass breakups. pic.twitter.com/ugWmNDGhmj
Luke Kuechly retiring at 28 is only a stunner if you forgot him being carted off the field in tears, bewildered, after suffering a concussion in November 2016— Matthew McGovern (@MatthewMcGovern) January 15, 2020
Luke Kuechly, one of the most remarkable linebackers - and people - in NFL history, emotionally announced his retirement tonight.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 15, 2020
I wondered about this a lot since profiling him and his love of fly-fishing over the summer.
He has known violence; now he can know peace. pic.twitter.com/rZ8DKK3SAK
So difficult to play middle linebacker at the NFL level for a long period of time. Hoping Luke Kuechly is in a place where he’ll be healthy and happy in the decades to come. An easy Hall of Fame pick.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 15, 2020
I couldn’t be more proud to call you my brother! Congrats on a heck of a career! The game will miss you as much as you miss the game bro! I love you my brother! https://t.co/6jw3C1xeZK— Thomas Davis (@ThomasDavisSDTM) January 15, 2020
There will only be one 59 pic.twitter.com/jWv8w6TCo1— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) January 15, 2020
This post will be updated.