The 28-year-old battled concussions throughout his career but did not indicate that head
injuries contributed to his unexpected decision to walk away from professional football.
"I think now is the right chance for me to move on," he said in a video posted by the team. "It makes me sad because I love playing this game, I've played it since I was a little kid. It's my favorite thing in the world to do. The memories I have from this place and this organization and playing on the field with these guys - they'll never go away."
Kuechly added, "There's only one way to play this game since I was a little kid - play fast, play physical, and play strong. And at this point, I don't know if I am able to do that anymore."
Kuechly, a first-round pick of the Panthers in 2012, was named to his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl and All-Pro team at the end of the regular season. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
"While I wish we could have him for many more years, he has done everything the right way and we respect the decision that he's made," Panthers owner David Tepper said. "Luke is a once-in-a-generation player and someone we want every member of this organization to emulate."
Kuechly had two years left on his contract and was due to make north of $10 million in base salary in 2020.