Will Antonio Gates return next season?

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images /
CARSON, CA – DECEMBER 10: Tight end Antonio Gates
CARSON, CA – DECEMBER 10: Tight end Antonio Gates /

The 37-year-old Antonio Gates will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Will he return for another season? And will it be with the Los Angeles Chargers?

Antonio Gates is a future Hall of Famer, a first-ballot one at that.

However, Gates’ best days are behind him. The veteran tight end, who has spent his entire 15-year career with the Chargers, took a backseat to second-year pro Hunter Henry in 2017. Despite finishing with career-low numbers in almost every receiving category, Gates made history when he passed Tony Gonzalez for most all-time touchdown catches by a tight end. His career total stands at 114.

Gates will enter 2018 as an unrestricted free agent. He turns 38 years old in June.

Does he have enough left in the tank to return for one more season? Gates accepted his new role, but he proved to still be a playmaker when called into action following Henry’s late-season injury. Gates was the Chargers’ No. 1 tight end for the final two weeks of the season and finished with 10 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown in those games.

And according to Los Angeles Times’ Mike DiGiovanna, Gates’ play in those two games gave him confidence going forward.

“Sometimes you need that reinforcement because as you get up in age, you need to go out there and physically do it, and that helps you mentally. I have a little saying that I tell my kids, ‘I still have the juice.’ It’s fun to go out there and play and help the team win.”

Gates also said winning a Super Bowl is “definitely a priority for me at this point.” The Chargers may have missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but they finished on a high note, going 9-3 in their final 12 games. The Chargers, who have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, were arguably just a kicker away from making the postseason. Perhaps Gates believes the Chargers can make a deep run next season.

That said, will the Chargers re-sign the former undrafted free agent out of Kent State? Given his age and lackluster production, money shouldn’t be an issue, so I don’t see a reason not to sign him to a one-year deal. Should the Chargers keep him, they’ll have a solid trio in Henry, Gates and Sean McGrath. The Chargers could look to add a tight end in the draft or free agency in 2019.

Overall, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gates donning the lightning bolt for one more season.