ATLANTA – Luke Kuechly is getting good at goodbye, and that’s how it goes as time goes by in the NFL.
A few weeks ago, it was revealed that the Panthers were moving on from longtime linebacker Thomas Davis.
On Friday, defensive end Julius Peppers announced his retirement after 17 illustrious seasons.
After wrapping up a promotion for Best Buy at SB Live in Atlanta, Kuechly learned of the Peppers news.
“I’ve played with guys that are potential (Hall of Fame) guys, but Pep is 100 percent a Hall of Famer. He’s larger than life,” Kuechly said. “I grew up watching him. Everybody knows who Pep is. And then to get the chance to play with him and realize what kind of guy he is – just a great player and great person. That’s what everyone has seen. People gravitate towards him.
“It’s been super cool playing with him these two years, and I’ll miss having him around.”
Kuechly feels the same – and then some – about Davis.
“Playing with Thomas for seven years was special,” Kuechly said. “I’ve been fortunate in my career to be around good people.”
They were spending time together in Atlanta as we saw thanks to a video posted on Davis’ Instagram.
“Can’t separate us,” Davis said with Kuechly smiling alongside him. “Don’t care if we not on the same team anymore, he’s still my brother and he’ll always be my brother, man.”
Kuechly and Davis formed a tight bond almost immediately after Kuechly came to Carolina as a first-round pick in 2012. And together, they formed the best linebacker duo in the league for several years.
“It’s hard. I’ve been with Thomas since the beginning,” Kuechly said. “And there were times where he missed games but I always knew he was coming back, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Now, it’s just, he’s not going to be there. It’s such a bummer. It makes me sad. But that’s just how the game works.”
Kuechly said he wouldn’t be the elite player he is today without Davis.
“He’s been great for me. I’ve learned a lot from him,” Kuechly said. “Coming into the league, you think you’re tough until you start seeing guys who are really tough. You see what guys play through and what they’ve been through. Watching Thomas, you learn what it means to be tough.”
Davis will become a free agent for the first time in his career, and Panthers fans are obviously curious to see where he’ll play next. The Georgia native made headlines earlier this week when he said he’d welcome the opportunity to play for the rival Falcons.
"We’ll see what happens," Kuechly said with a smile. "Whatever Thomas decides to do he’s going to be fantastic."