Retirement Season

Kate Magdziuk
Rotoworld

Antonio Gates kicked off the festivities Tuesday by releasing a written statement on social media. He's undoubtedly headed for Canton after racking up 11,841 receiving yards and 116 touchdowns - the most ever recorded by a tight end. He indicated in his statement that he intends to continue working with the Chargers in some capacity. 

Gates sat out the 2019 NFL season after his one-year deal with the Chargers expired. He has seen his role in the offense dialed back since the Chargers drafted Hunter Henry in 2016, though still found plenty of involvement in the offense in the setting of Henry's injuries. Considered one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, it will be exciting to see what kind of role is in his future within the organization.

Gates didn't deliver the only news Tuesday. It's another day, another retirement for a young(-ish) NFL star, with seemingly an entire career left ahead of him. It was a big day for the Carolina Panthers, as their star linebacker, Luke Kuechly, announced his retirement at the age of 28. He was drafted by the Panthers with the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and has remained with the team ever since. 

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Kuechly released an emotional video Tuesday with the Panthers announcing his decision. He didn't get specific with his reasoning for the decision, but it doesn't take much for fans to draw a conclusion. Despite managing a full 16 games in his last two seasons, Kuechly has a history of at least two serious concussions, one of which ended his season six weeks early in 2016. 

His retirement will leave a massive hole in the Panthers' defense, after he amassed 1,092 tackles, 18 interceptions and seven forced fumbles in his 118 career games. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his last seven seasons and First-Team All-Pro in five of his eight active seasons. 

Between the firing of former head coach Ron Rivera, the retirement of their star defender, possible retirement of TE Greg Olsen and possible trade of QB Cam Newton, it's clear that the tides are turning in the Carolinas, just as owner David Tepper had wished.

It's getting hard to ignore the number of young studs who have retired before the age of 30 in recent years. Kuechly joins the company of TE Rob Gronkowski and then, more surprisingly, Colts' QB Andrew Luck. Is early retirement the wave of the future?

The NFL has made attempts to amend rules to benefit player safety in recent years, including more-stringent enforcement of the league's concussion protocol, targeting rules and adjustments to kickoff procedures. This combines with their ongoing efforts to improve safety equipment within the league. Notably, the league saw a 23% decrease in incidence of concussions between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, while the data is yet to be released for 2019.

As the long-term effects of repeated injuries continues to become more evident, it would not be surprising to see the trend towards earlier retirement continue.

Other Slants

FA QB Jameis Winston posted an image of himself Tuesday with a cast over his thumb. Winston suffered a hairline fracture in his thumb in Week 14 against the Colts, exiting the game for six offensive snaps while backup Ryan Griffin got in some work. Winston led the league in passing yards (5,109), passes intercepted (30) and tied for most pass attempts with Jared Goff (656). The fracture is in his throwing hand, but it won't impact his ability to get a big deal (or not) in his impending free agency. Despite a career-high interception rate, Winston was the QB3 in 2019. ... QB prospect Tua Tagovailoa's agent announced Tuesday that he is on track to throw for teams in either March or April, prior to the NFL Draft. It's big news for the Alabama QB, who suffered a hip dislocation and fracture in November, which ended his final season. Tagovailoa has been scouted as one of the best quarterback prospects in the 2020 draft class, and if healthy, shouldn't last too long after Joe Burrow inevitably is taken with the first-overall pick. Top-10 teams in the draft order who could be looking at the young stud: Bengals (you never know), Dolphins, Chargers and Panthers. He's racked up 76 touchdowns and just nine interceptions through his last two seasons. ... The Raiders fired defensive line coach Brentson Buckner Tuesday after just one season with the team. Their unit achieved the ninth fewest sacks and fifth-lowest pressure rate in the NFL in 2019. His role is likely to be filled Rod Marinelli, who has a history of coaching with Jon Gruden back in Tampa and was recently fired by the Cowboys. ... Kevin Stefanski had his introductory press conference as head coach of the Cleveland Browns Tuesday. The jury is still out on whether or not he will be calling plays, but regardless, we can expect a heavy rushing attack and likely massive volume for Browns RB Nick Chubb. Stefanski called plays in Minnesota in 2019, a year they ranked fourth in the league for rush attempts and 30th in pass attempts. Chubb quietly racked up 1,494 rushing yards in 2019 and yet seems to be lower on the totem pole in terms of dynasty hype. Buy, buy, buy.

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