Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has missed the past three games as he’s been in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He finally was cleared to play this week. But based on comments made by head coach Ron Rivera on the team’s website it sure seems like Kuechly could remain sidelined when Panthers take on the Washington Redskins.

“We are excited to have Luke healthy and cleared from the protocol,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “I know he is extremely motivated to get back on the field and help us win games. Whether he plays this week or not, I don’t know. We have to balance our enthusiasm with what’s best for Luke and the team long term.”

Kuechly’s concussion was a big one. That he was held out for three games indicates the severity of the injury, and brain injuries are nothing to mess around with to begin with.

On top of that, the Panthers are already all but out of the playoff race with three games left to play, sporting a 5-8 record after losing just one game a year ago.

And while the team’s standing shouldn’t have any real impact on whether a player returns from a brain injury, the fact that Carolina is already out of it makes it much easier to make the call for him to remain on the sideline.

When healthy, Kuechly is one of the best overall defenders in the NFL. A sideline-to-sideline defender who is equally dangerous against the run or pass, he is an invaluable player for Carolina in the long term. With that in mind, the best thing the Panthers could do right now is convince him that, as excited as he is to return, the safe play is to wait until next year.