"Even if you sort of saw it coming," Tuesday's announcement that seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly was retiring from the NFL at age 28 "was shocking," writes Max Henson at CarolinaPanthers.com. "And heartbreaking." Kuechly, who played for the Panthers, announced his decision in a video posted to Twitter. "I still want to play, but I don't think it's the right decision," he said, fighting back tears. "There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid—play fast, play physical, and play strong," he added. "And at this point I don't know if I am able to do that anymore."
The news also came as a surprise to Mike Jones of USA Today, considering Kuechly is "one of the NFL's best defensive players … with two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract." Still, "don't be surprised if we see more of this." While Kuechly's exit might seem premature, the 2012 defensive rookie of the year and 2013 defensive player of the year has had "at least three concussions and two shoulder surgeries since 2015," Jones writes. Kuechly is hardly the first NFLer to retire before the age of 30. In fact, he’s the third elite-level player to do so in a year. Rob Gronkowski and Andrew Luck both retired in 2019 at age 29. "It appears the NFL has a growing trend," writes Josh Slagter at MLive. (Read more NFL stories.)