Could the Panthers coax Luke Kuechly out of retirement in 2021?
By Dean Jones
The Carolina Panthers are missing Luke Kuechly this season.
Of all the decisions made by the Carolina Panthers this offseason, the one hurting them the most is something they had absolutely no control over. Luke Kuechly‘s retirement was a hammer blow to the organization after the perennial All-Pro hung up his cleats after eight glittering seasons with the franchise.
Few could argue that Kuechly didn’t step away for the right reasons. He suffered a series of concussions throughout his time in the NFL and walking away while his health is still intact was probably the right call to make, even though it does appear to be hurting the Carolina Panthers on the field.
Although it might seem the most unlikely of propositions, could Carolina somehow tempt Kuechly out of retirement in 2021?
Unlikely, but hardly impossible.
The Carolina Panthers are struggling at linebacker this season.
This has become more commonplace over the years. Players take a year off during their initial retirement before coming back into the NFL. Rob Gronkowski was the latest high-profile name to make such a move when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason and after taking his time to adjust, the tight end now looks to have hit his stride.
Whether Kuechly wants to do the same is up for debate.
The player is incredibly passionate about the game. But one only has to look at the emotional goodbye video he published to see what a hard decision stepping away was for Kuechly to make.
He remains part of the organization in a new role as a pro scout, which ensures he is still involved in Carolina’s plans for the future. Giving this up in favor of a return to the roster is going to take some convincing, but it is not out of the realms of possibility.
Having Kuechly at the second level makes everyone on the defense better. This is something the Panthers are simply not getting from free-agent signing Tahir Whitehead, who has been a disappointment, to put it mildly, this season.
Shaq Thompson has also regressed with not having Kuechly alongside him to take off some of the pressure. Big things were expected of the former first-round pick in 2020 but he has failed to deliver the goods so far.
Imagine what Kuechly’s return would do for someone like Jeremy Chinn, a rookie with star potential who is growing in stature with every passing game. The former Southern Illinois standout is probably getting some useful information from him away from the gridiron, but seeing this dynamic duo flying sideline-to-sideline would be fun to watch.
Replacing Kuechly is a near-impossible task. The seven-time Pro Bowler demonstrated the sort of electrifying play seldom seen at the position and undeniably goes down as one of the Panthers’ greatest-ever players.
His ability to make a real difference was evident from the moment he stepped onto the field, providing the Panthers with an inspirational defensive lynchpin that was, simply put, the heart and soul of the organization.
Kuechly eventually finished his career with 1,092 combined tackles, 690 solo tackles, 75 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 66 passes defended, 18 interceptions, nine forced fumbles, and 31 quarterback hits. The Panthers aren’t going to find this sort of production in free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft, so why not ask No. 52 how he feels about a possible return?
There is no harm in putting the question out there. Kuechly is strong-willed enough not to be pushed into any change of heart, but Carolina needs to make sure they have a competitive team ready to go in order for the proposition to be more enticing for a player with nothing left to prove.
This is probably a pipe-dream, but it would be an unbelievable lift to the organization and its fanbase.