Both Luke Kuechly and Antonio Gates retired on Tuesday, signifying an end to two players who are all-time greats for their respective organizations.
The Kuechly decision comes as a surprise, as the star linebacker is only 28 years old. In his eight seasons in the league, Kuechly made seven Pro Bowls, in addition to being a five-time First-Team All-Pro and the tackling leader twice.
Selected ninth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kuechly made an immediate impact for the team. In his rookie season, Kuechly recorded a career-high 164 combined tackles, one sack and one interception. He followed that season by winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award in his sophomore campaign, combining for 156 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions.
Since 2012, Kuechly has three seasons with at least 150 tackles. Only 10 other players have made 150 tackles once, with Bobby Wagner doing it twice. In his fourth season, Kuechly anchored a Carolina Panthers defense that lost in the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos. Kuechly has never finished a season with less than 100 tackles.
The linebacker stated that now was a good time for him to step away from the game, as he gave a three-minute speech on the Panthers Twitter page.
The Gates retirement isn’t surprising, considering he’s retired once before. The 16-year Los Angeles Chargers (it’s a crime that they’re in Los Angeles) legend finished with 116 touchdown receptions, the most ever by a tight end in NFL history.
In his time with the Chargers, Gates was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and made five All-Pro teams. He is also the Chargers all-time franchise leader in catches (955) and receiving yards (11,841). Quarterback Phillip Rivers and Gates connected for 89 touchdown passes, the most ever for a quarterback-tight end duo.
Gates has a remarkable underdog story, considering he joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent, having spent his collegiate years playing basketball for Kent State. The tight end caught on quickly, finishing his rookie season with 389 yards and two touchdowns. During his eight-year prime from 2004-2011, Gates had 7,394 receiving yards and 74 touchdowns.