Carolina Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly fought back tears as he announced his retirement from football at 28 in a surprise move on Tuesday night.
The seven-time Pro Bowler and 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year spoke in a video posted on the team's Twitter account about his decision to step away from the game while still in his prime.
"There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid — play fast, play physical and play strong,'' he said. "And at this point I don't know if I am able to do that anymore. That's the part that is the most difficult.
"I still want to play, but I don't think it's the right decision. I thought about it for a long time. Now is an opportunity to step away with what's going on here.''
The former Boston College star didn't offer specifics about why he felt his play had slowed. However, from 2015 to 2017, he missed seven games due to concussions, according to ESPN.
"In my heart, I know it’s the right thing to do,'' he said.
The five-time first-team All-Pro linebacker is coming off a season in which he started all 16 games for Carolina and finished with 144 tackles. He had two years left on his contract and was set to make $10.8 million next season.
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on," Kuechly said. "It makes me sad because I love playing this game, I've played it since I was a kid. It's my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and this organization and being on the field with these guys, they'll never go away.''
Many of his coaches, teammates and fellow NFL players expressed their admiration for Kuechly after his announcement.
Kuechly's retirement makes him the second NFL star to call it a career this season at an unusually young age.
In August, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck surprised the league by retiring at 29 after a spate of injuries. New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski also retired at 29 last March after a series of injury-filled seasons.