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TheDeuce 04-22-2008 01:02 PM

Mike Rucker retires from Panthers
Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker will announce his retirement Tuesday afternoon.

The team has called a 1 p.m. ET press conference for the announcement. Rucker, 33, had not re-signed with the team since his contract expired at the end of last season.

The move comes 10 weeks after Rucker decided he'd try to play for at least one more season. But the 33-year-old Rucker recently began having second thoughts, and the Panthers decided not to re-sign the unrestricted free agent.

"One day it just hit me that it's time. It's time," Rucker told The Associated Press by phone. "There are about 50 different reasons why. You can think of a lot of reasons why you can keep playing, but the reasons why you should stop outweigh them."

A second-round pick in 1999 from Nebraska, Rucker has 55.5 career sacks, including a career-best 12 in 2003 and one Pro Bowl appearance. The Panthers already had been considering a defensive end to replace Rucker in the early rounds of this weekend's NFL draft.

Rucker suffered the first major injury of his pro career, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, near the end of the 2006 season. Determined not to end his career, Rucker underwent rehabilitation and was back on the field for the start of training camp seven months later.

Rucker acknowledged he was favoring his left knee early last season, but his numbers picked up once he shed a bulky brace. Rucker returned to his starting spot on the defensive line and finished with 57 tackles and three sacks.

But Rucker started wondering if he was close to retirement near the end of last season, especially after his close friend and teammate, safety Mike Minter, retired during training camp.

Rucker was in tears after what turned out to be his final home game in December, but he told reporters he would wait until a couple of months after the season to make a decision.

Charles Johnson, a third-round pick last year, and Stanley McClover also are possible replacements for Rucker, but neither has much experience.

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