OT Meadows to attempt comeback after two years off

Seven-year veteran offensive tackle Adam Meadows, who abruptly retired less than two weeks into the Carolina Panthers' training camp in 2004, hopes to resume his NFL career and will formally petition the league for reinstatement by the end of this week.

Adam Meadows Meadows

Meadows, 32, played seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, including six as a starter, before signing with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent in 2004.

"Let's face it, I just love football," Meadows told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I feel a lot better physically now than when I left the game and my weight is back up to about where it needs to be. You just don't know how much you miss it until it's gone from you. And I missed it a lot. So I'm going to see if I can do this."

Reinstatement following a two-year hiatus figures to be just a technicality, and Meadows on Thursday will apprise commissioner Paul Tagliabue of his desires in writing. The one technicality is that Carolina, which signed Meadows to a five-year, $15 million contract in 2004, still holds his playing rights, even though he repaid the Panthers the entire $2.5 million signing bonus he received as part of that deal.

Agent Don Henderson has spoken to Panthers general manager Marty Hurney about the possibility of Meadows returning to the team. Carolina personnel officials and coaches will meet in the next few days to discuss Meadows' situation, and might bring him in for a physical examination before training camp begins.

The team's two starting offensive tackles, Jordan Gross on the right side and Travelle Wharton on the left, are solidly entrenched at their respective positions. Meadows could play guard, which he did in 2003 with Indianapolis, and where the Panthers project second-year veteran Evan Mathis as the new starter on the right side, or he might be able to provide experienced depth at several line positions.

"The one thing I don't want to do is come back, find out a team doesn't want me, and then have to re-retire," Meadows said. "I've got a lot of respect for those people in Carolina -- Marty, Coach [John] Fox and [owner] Jerry Richardson -- and I know they'll shoot straight with me. If they don't think I'm a fit there, they can release me and I'll play somewhere else, because I definitely feel like I can do it."

Meadows could become the second prominent offensive lineman to attempt a comeback this year after two seasons away from the game. The Kansas City Chiefs earlier signed former New Orleans and St. Louis tackle Kyle Turley, whose back problems have kept him off the field since 2003, to a two-year contract.

Turley will go to camp with a chance to win the starting job at right tackle.

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.

The former University of Georgia standout, a second-round choice of Indianapolis in the 1997 draft, was a fixture on the Colts' offensive line for much of his career. He earned a starting job as a rookie and averaged 15 starts in his first six seasons, never starting fewer than 14 games in any season. But in 2003, he was replaced at right tackle by Ryan Diem, started five games at guard, but felt he deserved to be in the lineup.

The following spring, with the Panthers planning to move Gross to the left side, the club signed Meadows and projected him as the starting right tackle. But early in training camp, Meadows was bothered by persistent shoulder problems 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 said. "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."

Although his retirement left the Panthers scrambling to reshape their line, Fox noted at the time that Meadows had "a lot of integrity" for being honest with the team.

Meadows said his shoulders, especially the left shoulder, which was the worse of the two, is much better after two years away from the game. He acknowledged that he still has to fight through some pain, but emphasized that the discomfort is nothing like it was in 2004.

"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.