On Tuesday night, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his retirement from the NFL in this heartfelt and articulate video.
Only 28 years young, Kuechly was one of the smartest players in the league and he routinely matched wits with Drew Brees as the two players constantly tried to out smart the other.
In Brees’ own words from an interview last season, “Obviously, Kuechly is one of the best to ever do it. He’s the quarterback of that defense and got a lot of good players around him as well.”
When asked what made Kuechly so dangerous, Brees replied, “He’s extremely intelligent so in many cases, you know, you feel like he knows where the ball is going before the ball is snapped. So you call that, he can diagnose what’s happening and then he’s moving before anyone else is moving, right?
“And then his ability to make adjustments, you know, on the fly, typically if you get him with something once, you’re not going to get him again. You know, his ability to get everybody else lined up. You know, you see him talking and communicating all the time.
“And then he’s just a great football player. Even if he has a guy on him who’s blocking him, in many cases he sheds that block, and I can maybe count on one hand how many missed tackles I’ve ever seen him have in his entire career, and I’ve had to watch a bunch of film on him. So he’s an exceptional player.”
After eight years in the NFL, Kuechly’s list of accomplishments include, but are not limited to, seven Pro Bowl selections, five first team All-Pro selections, two second team All-Pro selections, Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, three pro Butkus awards, one college Butkus award, the Lombardi award, the Lott award, and more recently, the Art Rooney award.
The only thing that might keep Kuechly out of the Hall of Fame is his relatively brief career, which, by the way, was still more than twice the average length of an NFL career (3.3 years). If I was a Panthers fan, I would have worn a Kuechly jersey.
The linebackers for the Panthers now include a rookie, two second year players, and veteran Shaq Thompson. Though Kuechly showed faith in Thompson being able to carry the torch, that is a very tall order, and there is little doubt the Panthers linebackers are much worse today than they were Tuesday.
Then Wednesday happened. Less than 24 hours later, the Panthers announced that the newly minted national champion LSU’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach, Joe Brady, had been hired as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator.
The Panthers’ identity has completely changed with its latest coach hirings. They have gone from a defensive minded head coach in Ron Rivera to more offensive minded coaches in Matt Rhule and Joe Brady.
Rhule’s NFL experience before his head coaching gigs at Temple and Baylor was serving as the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach in 2012. Brady cut his teeth as an offensive assistant for the Saints in 2017 and 2018 before leaving for his job at LSU.
Sure, their defense might take a significant step back without Kuechly, but their offense should certainly improve. Brady might even be in a position to resurrect quarterback Cam Newton’s flailing career.
If Brady was able to design a system in which Joe Burrow rushed for 368 yards while averaging 3.2 yards per carry, just think what he could do with a healthy Cam Newton.
The Panthers may still decide to cut bait with Newton as has previously been reported, but Brady’s hiring has the potential to alter the Panthers’ future plans at quarterback, whether that means sticking with Newton or moving on.
Between Kuechly’s retirement and Brady’s hiring, one thing is for sure, one of the Saints’ divisional rivals is going to be completely different next season.
Whether the Panthers will be better or worse is yet to be determined, but I have a feeling I’m going to love watching Sean Payton and Joe Brady match wits just like I loved watching Brees and Kuechly do the same for the past eight years.