Carolina Panthers: Luke Kuechly’s next stop should be Hall of Fame

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his shocking retirement on Monday night and his next stop will be Canton as a Hall-of-Famer.

Right after the Carolina Panthers stirred up some excitement with the hiring of offensive coordinator Joe Brady, the mood was brought down as one of the modern greats called it a career.

On Monday night, 28-year old linebacker Luke Kuechly posted a heartfelt message to the Panthers official social media accounts in which he said it was time for him to retire.

A visibly emotional Kuechly noted that he wanted to keep playing the game he loves more than anything but knew that it was time for him to walk away. “In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

First and foremost, though it’s sad to see a player in his late 20s retire, it’s also a decision that’s impossible to respect. Kuechly is leaving the game with his health relatively intact and on his terms, not the terms of injuries or age robbing him of his immense gifts.

The natural question after his retirement is what’s next. And while it won’t be immediately given the five-year waiting period for his eligibility, one of the next stops for Luke Kuechly should be a trip to Canton, OH to accept his gold jacket as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

If there’s one knock against Kuechly’s candidacy to be a Hall-of-Famer, it’s the lack of longevity as he’s retiring at 28 years old, which is something that voters seem to value to a certain degree. However, when you look at his résumé, that’s the only knock that you’ll find.

Kuechly burst onto the scene as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and made his presence felt right away in Carolina. The linebacker earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors as he notched a career-high 164 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one sack. Somehow, he was snubbed as a Pro Bowler and All-Pro.

That changed in his second NFL season, however. Not only did Kuechly earn his first selection to both teams but he captured the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors. In that award-winning season, the Carolina superstar came up with 156 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four interceptions and two sacks.

He was far from an early-career wonder as well. Kuechly was the model of consistent top-tier production at linebacker. In all eight of his NFL seasons with the Panthers, he registered at least 100 tackles — including in 2016 when he was limited to just 10 games due to a scary concussion that left him in tears on the field.

More than just his elite tackling numbers, the linebacker continuously made plays all over the field, finishing his regular-season career with 1,092 tackles, 75 tackles for loss, 18 interceptions, 12.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. Moreover, he was a critical piece of the 2015 Panthers team that reeled off a 15-1 regular season and made it to Super Bowl 50, a run that Kuechly was instrumental in as he recorded two pick-sixes in the playoffs.

While Kuechly’s career may have only lasted eight seasons, everything he did screams future Hall-of-Famer. In fact, whether or not he makes it into Canton but rather how soon it happens.

Whether or not he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer shouldn’t matter though. At the end of the day, one of the most impactful, productive and simply best linebackers in the modern NFL is walking away from the game. And his bust should already be prepared for the Hall because that’s exactly where he deserves to be headed now.