CHARLOTTE, N.C., Dec. 21 (UPI) -- One of the NFL's best young defensive players isn't ready to take his last snap.
"I know you appreciate those guys who want what is best for you and it's a thing we'll learn more about," Kuechly told reporters. "I trust what our doctors have to say. I trust our coaches and all those guys. I want to get out there and play. This most recent time -- just like the last time -- everyone said 'you're good to go'. Just let it get better and then go from there. I'm excited whenever the opportunity is but I'm holding that retirement word for a little ways down the road so it's something you appreciate everyone's concern but whenever my opportunity comes back, I'll be back out there."
Kuechly, 25, was cleared from concussion protocol about a week ago. He did not play in the Panthers' Week 15 win against the Washington Redskins. The three-time All-Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year also missed three games in 2015 due to the concussion protocol.
Coach Ron Rivera might make the decision to take a cautions approach with its star defender, as the 6-8 Panthers are outside of the playoff picture.
"Odds are he won't play the final two games, but when asked about that after the 26-15 win coach Ron Rivera only said 'we'll see,'" ESPN's David Newton reported.
Kuechly had 71 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in 10 games before suffering the concussion. The Boston College product signed a six-year, $64.1 million contract in September of 2015.
"[Rivera] said you're not going to play this week, and then we'll kind of go on from there," Kuechly told reporters. "I'm crossing my fingers every week that they're going to give me the thumbs up to go but those guys have a good plan in place of what they want to do and what's best for the team. I'm going to prepare like I'm playing. I'm going to make sure I'm ready to go but we'll see what happens moving forward with it."
Kuechly was knocked out of the Panthers' Nov. 17 victory against the New Orleans Saints. He sat on the injury cart trying to fight back tears after taking a hit to the back of his helmet from teammate Thomas Davis, while being hit in the chest by the crown of Tim Hightower's helmet. The Panthers battle the Atlanta Falcons at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve in an NFC South clash at Bank of America Stadium.
Kuechly said he would "reluctantly" agree to sit out the Panthers' final two games if he was told to do so by team staff.