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Luke Kuechly retires: Panthers star gives up fortune in salary

Thomas Barrabi

NFL linebacker Luke Kuechly walked away from a small fortune in salary when he surprised the football world by announcing his retirement on Tuesday night.

Kuechly, 28, retired with two years and about $22 million in cash left on his contract with the Carolina Panthers, according to Spotrac. The All-Pro linebacker will essentially forfeit that money, as well any on-field earnings from future contracts when the current deal expires after the 2021 season.

"I still want to play, but I don't think it's the right decision,'' Kuechly said in a video posted on Panthers social media. “I thought about it for a long time. Now is an opportunity to step away with what's going on here.''

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Kuechly was one of the NFL’s most dominant linebackers during his eight-year career. The Boston College product was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and 2013 NFL defensive player of the year.

He earned more than $63 million in salary during his NFL career, plus millions more through endorsement deals with the likes of Nike and PepsiCo.

Kuechly battled multiple concussions during his NFL career. It’s unclear if that injury history was a factor in Kuechly’s decision to retire, but he alluded to health-related issues that made it difficult for him to perform at his highest level on the field.

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"There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid -- play fast, play physical and play strong,'' Kuechly said. "And at this point I don't know if I am able to do that anymore. That's the part that is the most difficult.''

Kuechly is one of several prominent NFL players to retire from the league in recent years during the prime of their career, forgoing millions of dollars in the process. Former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski each retired from the NFL prior to the 2019 season, citing concerns about their health.

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