You got to know when to fold ‘em

Published 5:58 pm Friday, January 17, 2020

Have you realized sometimes that too many people in this era are living for compliments, instead of living for accomplishments? People working for the weekend, instead of working for something that will last.

And sometimes, people who work on the weekend can create something just as lasting.

I thought about that in a week that began with Clemson losing in the College Football Playoff Championship game, and ended when I learned of NFL Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly’s retirement announcement.

Two good things may have come from the Clemson game: Panthers owner David Tepper got to open that fat wallet of his and hire ‘quarterback whisperer’ Joe Brady away from the victorious LSU Tigers to be Carolina’s new offensive coordinator for new head coach Matt Rhule. I’m left wondering how he will fit with Cam Newton or the other holdover quarterbacks, because the Panthers are a long-shot to pry number-one NFL draft pick Joe Burrow away from the Cincinnati Bengals (not enough assets: even if Carolina throws in running back Christian McCaffery!); and the next best quarterback, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa coming off hip surgery to me is too big a gamble right now.

But they can make a splash with Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus Award winner, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker, Simmons finished the regular season with the team lead in tackles (84), tackles for loss (14.0), sacks (7.0) while adding six pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 12 games. He then kept pace with similarly impressive numbers in the post-season.

Another Clemson linebacker, James Skalski, the player who was ejected from the championship game for targeting (“allegedly” leading with his helmet on a tackle), wouldn’t be a bad second option at the number-seven draft pick in case Simmons is gone. His on-field leadership compares well to Kuechly’s, even though there are some physical attributes he lacks.

Hard to believe it was just two short years ago that Kuechly and fellow-Panthers teammate Thomas Davis were part of the best linebacking corps in football. But now Davis is a year gone from Charlotte (San Diego, where he didn’t play much), and Kuechly joined him on the exit ramp Tuesday. Those departures are going to leave a lot on the shoulders of Panthers’ Shaq Thompson – who was just rewarded with a new contract late last season – and Jermaine Carter, a back-up, to live up to. But that pair now has to grow up fast, and do it in a new system that’s sure to be coming with new defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

As surprising as Kuechly’s retirement was, there are very few voices, within and without football, who have not lauded him for making that call.

None more so than the next Panther who still has a little left in the tank, but may follow Luke out the door: tight end Greg Olsen.

Olsen and Kuechly played together in Carolina for eight seasons and both were integral to the Panther’s success over that time. The duo combined for 10 Pro Bowls and were, at times, possibly considered the best players at their positions.

“Listen, I’m sad, too,” Olsen told several Charlotte news outlets. “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.”

Both of these players have injury history and know about the arduous return from rehabilitation. For Kuechly it was concussions (though he was concussion-free in both 2018 and 2019), and for Olsen it was knee and foot maladies. Olsen said he feels confident Kuechly made 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 added. “This wasn’t done all of a sudden. 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.”

That voice of reason and confidence kind of shoots down some of that negativity about his leaving, don’t you think?

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.