Examining Luke Kuechly's Hall of Fame Resume After Surprising NFL Retirement

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJanuary 15, 2020

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 29: Luke Kuechly #59 of the Carolina Panthers before their game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his retirement after eight stellar seasons Tuesday.

Kuechly, 28, was the team's defensive superstar for much of the decade after Carolina took him ninth overall out of Boston College in the 2012 NFL draft.

The middle linebacker finishes his career after enjoying much team success, which included four postseason appearances, three NFC South titles and a Super Bowl 50 berth following a 15-1 regular season in 2015.

That Super Bowl 50 team is also just one of 13 squads in NFL history to win 17 or more games, including playoffs. The other 12 are the Miami Dolphins (1972), the Pittsburgh Steelers (1978), the San Francisco 49ers (1984 and 1989), the Chicago Bears (1985), the New York Giants (1986), the Washington Redskins (1991), the Denver Broncos (1998) and the New England Patriots (2003, 2004, 2007 and 2016).

His tenure ended with two seasons out of the playoffs, but the linebacker still amassed 274 tackles and 24 tackles for losses (20 in 2018).

Those numbers are symbolic of an individual resume that will land Kuechly in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. ESPN's Field Yates and Washington Redskins head coach Ron Rivera (who led the Panthers from 2012 to 2019) explained why:

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The only question is whether he will get in on his first ballot after he's retired five years.

Kuechly made the Pro Bowl in every season but his 2012 rookie campaign, when he was snubbed from an appearance. The then-rookie had a career-high 164 tackles in addition to three fumble recoveries, 12 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. And he did this all at the age of 21.

The ex-BC star was dominant over his next three seasons en route to co-leading the Panthers to back-to-back-to-back NFC South titles. He averaged 142 tackles per year despite missing three games in 2015. Kuechly also excelled against the pass with nine interceptions and 29 passes defended.

Kuechly rounded out his career with four Pro Bowls and 100 tackles or more each year despite missing six games in 2016 because of a concussion suffered against the New Orleans Saints.

No one would have blamed him whatsoever if he retired after that injury, which resulted in Kuechly visibly crying on the Bank of America field.

Plus, the linebacker gave everything he had to the game, the team and the league during his professional career at that point.

However, Kuechly still suited up for the next three seasons and returned to his stellar form once again.

Kuechly is as highly regarded off the field as he is on it, as evidenced by kind words pouring in from numerous sources including Saints wideout Michael Thomas and ex-teammates Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen:

Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, who has covered Kuechly for three seasons, also offered a glimpse into Kuechly's character.

"We are all better people for having watched him. I am a better person for having covered him, and I learned just a little bit about the game, and about life, from him. Once, at a press junket, he diagrammed plays for me using soup cans. He was so into it, he even named them after his teammates. He would wait back at his locker after media scrums and answer my questions about football in detail. What a gift, to learn from a future Hall of Famer. After I moved to The Athletic, he always asked me about stories I was working on. Even if I didn’t need his help with them, he’d try to help anyway."

That may speak more volumes about Kuechly than any of his statistics and team accomplishments, but regardless, the gold jacket awaits for one of the game's best.