Kuechly, 28, said in a video posted on the team’s website that he believes it is the “right chance to move on.” He fought back tears during the announcement.
“It makes me sad because I love playing this game,” Kuechly said. “I’ve played it since I was a kid. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world. The memories I have from this place and this organization and being on the field with these guys, they will never go away. ... There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid — play fast, play physical and play strong. At this point, I don’t know if I am able to do that anymore, and that's the part that is the most difficult.
“I still want to play, but I don't think it's the right decision.”
Kuechly didn’t specifically mention any concussions that he had suffered playing as a reason for his departure from the league. Kuechly suffered a scary concussion during a Thursday night football game against the New Orleans Saints in 2016. He was seen crying as he left the field.
Kuechly was selected with the No. 9 pick of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Panthers out of Boston College. He made it to seven Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro five times. In 2012, he was on the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and in 2013 he was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.
He helped the Panthers win three NFC South title and reach the Super Bowl during the 2015 season.
“While I wish we could have him for many more years, he has done everything the right way and we respect the decision he has made,” Panthers owner David Tepper said. “Luke is a once-in-a-generation player and someone we want every member of this organization to emulate.
“Beyond his extraordinary performance on the field Luke has had a tremendous impact on this organization. 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.”
Kuechly was selected for this Pro Bowl but had already pulled out of the game.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.