CHARLOTTE -- The status of linebacker Luke Kuechly is an issue again for the Carolina Panthers and this time his future in the NFL could be part of the conversation.
He entered the concussion protocol for the third time in three seasons after absorbing a shot Thursday night in the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kuechly is considered one of the best defenders in the NFL. At age 26, he could be in the prime of his career even after already owning one NFL Defensive Player of the Year season.
But his well-being will be part of the equation when considering what's next for the sixth-year pro.
"Luke is a big part of what we do," Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said after the 28-23 loss Thursday.
Kuechly collided with Eagles offensive guard Brandon Brooks during a goal-line situation on what became Philadelphia's first touchdown drive.
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said early Friday afternoon that he didn't have an update on Kuechly. Rivera is withholding comment on Kuechly's situation until the player is out of the protocol.
Yet the player's status was a big part of the postgame conversation.
"Hopefully it's nothing too bad, he'll get some rest and he'll be back in no time," defensive tackle Kawann Short said.
But it won't be that simple now that Kuechly, who has more tackles since 2012 than any other player, entered this stage multiple times.
Kuechly walked off the field with two members of the team's medical staff. He stayed on the sideline for a few plays before he was taken away for additional evaluation.
Kuechly missed the first three games of the 2015 season, when the Panthers advanced to the Super Bowl, and he sat out the last six games a year ago. He was cleared to return with three games remaining in 2016, but coaching staff decided it wasn't worth it for a team that was then out of the playoff chase.
On Thursday, David Mayo replaced Kuechly, who was credited with four tackles, as the middle linebacker.