CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said Wednesday that his close friend Luke Kuechly was “very at peace” with his decision to retire from football at age 28.
“Luke and I have seen each other many times since the season ended,” Olsen said in a phone interview with The Observer. “And I think it’s nice to see him feel so strongly about this. That doesn’t mean it was easy. It was hard. But he seems very at peace.”
Olsen also said that Kuechly arrived at this decision after weeks of contemplating what to do. “You know that if Luke is going to make a decision like that, he’s put a ton of thought into it,” Olsen said. “It’s maybe not what he wanted to do, necessarily, but it’s what is the right thing for him.”
Kuechly, a star linebacker and hall of fame candidate who made the Pro Bowl seven straight times for Carolina, revealed Tuesday night he was retiring. Olsen said he understood the fact that there was some sadness surrounding Kuechly’s announcement among Carolina fans.
“Listen, I’m sad, too,” Olsen said. “I think everyone who knows him is a little bit sad. But I’m also really happy for Luke -- to go out on his own terms. To control his ending. That’s very fitting.”
At age 34, Olsen is the Panthers’ oldest player and is currently mulling his own career options. But he said he only wanted to talk about Kuechly Wednesday, not his own situation, because “Luke deserves this day.”
As for the outpouring of support Kuechly has received from teammates, fans and foes since the surprise announcement Tuesday night, Olsen said that’s the way it should be.
“As his friends and his teammates,” Olsen said, “we obviously support him one thousand percent. Luke doesn’t owe anybody anything.”
Why exactly did Kuechly retire? In his retirement announcement, made via a 215-second video posted on the Panthers’ website, Kuechly referenced not being able to play as well as he once did.
“There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid,” Kuechly said in the video. “To play fast, to play physical and to play strong. And at this point, I don’t know if I’m able to do that anymore, and that’s the part that is the most difficult.”
Kuechly has a well-known concussion history, sustaining one diagnosed concussion every year from 2015-17. When asked how much those concussions had to do with this retirement, Olsen demurred.
“I’m just going to let Luke speak for himself as far as that goes,” Olsen said. “Whatever he wants to divulge about health – when or if he wants to -- he can divulge.”
Olsen was more interested in speaking about Kuechly as a person and player Wednesday.
“I can go on and on about how much I enjoyed being his friend and teammate,” Olsen said. “We’ve spent a lot of time together. We’ve been watching playoff games with some of the guys recently. He’s been amazing with my kids. He’s amazing with everyone’s kids. He’s special. He’s really about everything you could ever dream up as a person in terms of his qualities.”
As for Kuechly leaving the NFL after eight seasons, Olsen said he was “confident” that Kuechly was making the right decision given his personal circumstances and noted that other star NFL players (Andrew Luck, Rob Gronkowski, Patrick Willis) have taken a similar path over the past few years.
“Believe me, Luke thought through all the angles,” Olsen said. “This wasn’t done all of a sudden. He’s a thoughtful guy. And this is a game a lot of people struggle to detach from. Luke has the confidence and stability, in his career and his life, that he’s not just a football player and there’s more to do going forward.”
And what would that be?
“Luke can obviously do anything he wants to,” Olsen said. “For now, I think he’ll enjoy some downtime -- spend some time with the guys. Go hunting. Go fishing. And then, who knows? Luke will have the world at his fingertips going forward.”