Lineman Meadows reinstated, will be free agent

Reinstated by the league after a two-year hiatus from the game, offensive lineman Adam Meadows will now have the opportunity to choose the franchise with which he resumes his NFL career.

After considerable deliberation, the Carolina Panthers, who retained Meadows' rights after he abruptly retired less than two weeks into camp in 2004, on Tuesday decided to terminate their relationship. The move, not wholly unexpected despite Meadows' preference to return to the Panthers, makes the seven-year veteran an unrestricted free agent.

Even with his two-year absence from the playing field, and past shoulder problems that played a role in his decision to retire, Meadows is expected to generate interest now that he is officially a free agent. By Tuesday evening, agent Don Henderson had already heard from about a half-dozen teams.

ESPN.com has learned that Meadows will undergo a physical exam for the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday. He will then fly to Jackson, Miss., site of the Saints' training camp, to meet with New Orleans officials.

The Falcons would probably consider Meadows as a candidate at guard. New Orleans, which is rebuilding its offensive line, would almost certainly try Meadows at right tackle. The projected starter at right tackle for the Saints is former second-round draft choice (2003) Jon Stinchcomb. But Stinchcomb, who like Meadows played at the University of Georgia, has appeared in just 10 games in three seasons, none as a starter, and missed the entire 2005 season after rupturing his right patella tendon in training camp last summer.

Over the last two years, Meadows has built a successful home construction business in his native Georgia and the company is up and running well. He has built his weight back up as well, to 290 pounds now, from a low of 258 pounds. In his last few seasons in the league, Meadows was listed at 290 pounds, although he probably played a bit heavier.

His shoulders, Meadows said, feel better than they have in years and he is confident that he can hold up physically in camp.

Meadows, 32, played seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, including six as a starter, before signing a five-year, $15 million contract with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent in 2004. But early in training camp, Meadows, projected as the starting right tackle, was bothered by persistent shoulder woes that kept him off the field. He had undergone shoulder surgeries in 1999 and 2003 and, frustrated by his inability to perform at his previous level, opted to retire.

"I wasn't going to steal their money and just try to hang on," Meadows told ESPN.com last week, after petitioning the NFL for reinstatement. "They had certain expectations for me. And my expectations were even higher than theirs. I went there to play football and I didn't think I could do it the way I'd been able to in the past. You don't like leaving a team in a bind in camp, but you don't want to cheat people, either. But I just couldn't get it done."

The reinstatement issue was basically a formality. But even though Meadows repaid the Panthers his entire $2.5 million signing bonus when he retired, Carolina still retained his rights, and team officials wanted some time to consider whether to bring him back. After a few days of discussions, the Panthers decided they are comfortable with the composition of their offensive line depth chart going into training camp.

Meadows said last week that, if the Panthers did not want to add him to the roster, it would not diminish his desire to return to the league.

"I'm hungry again, plain and simple, and I'm healthier now," said Meadows, whose NFL resume includes 103 appearances, with 96 of them as a starter. "Maybe had another year gone by, I wouldn't feel this way, because I'd be settled into retirement. But it seems like the time is right for me and that it's the right thing for me to do."

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.