Now that the San Diego Chargers know where they’ll be playing in 2016, it’s time to focus on the next issue, which will be free agency.
The organization will be faced with several tough decisions with its own free agents, and none will be tougher than the tight end position. The team has its top two tight ends—Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green—as unrestricted free agents this offseason.
According to Overthecap.com, the Chargers have $27.7 million in available cap space. Sure, they could re-sign both tight ends, but the team needs to think about saving money to use on other players to rebuild a 4-12 team.
Though it’s hard for fans to consider the possibility of letting Gates go, it’s one that needs to happen. Gates will be 36 years old when the 2016 season starts, hardly the ideal age for a tight end. Though he did prove he can still be productive last season, Green is 10 years younger and could likely be retained at a cheaper rate.
Gates was also suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league’s policy against substance abuse. He missed another game due to injury. Green filled in just fine in his absence, catching 14 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the first three games of the season. By comparison, he caught just 23 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns in the other 10 games he played, while Gates was on the field.
Gates is coming off a contract that paid him an average of $7.2 million per season. Though he is one of the greatest tight ends the league has ever known, he will have to be willing to take a big cut in pay for the team to even consider keeping him. However, if the Chargers do that, what will Green do? He’ll be free to sign with any team and he may not want to play second fiddle to the aging Gates any longer.
That is the most important reason why this decision needs to be made. Gates has been a staple in San Diego, and the rising Green should be given the same opportunity.
Expecting Green to be the next Gates isn’t realistic. Gates has put up the kind of numbers that no tight end in San Diego may ever reach. But going forward, for the reasons stated above, the comparison isn’t really all that close.
Green is the tight end to keep in San Diego.