Chargers Free Agency

Chargers 2018 free agency: Will Antonio Gates return?

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 31: Antonio Gates #85 of the Los Angeles Chargers is seen running onto the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at StubHub Center on December 31, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 31: Antonio Gates #85 of the Los Angeles Chargers is seen running onto the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at StubHub Center on December 31, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Chargers TE Antonio Gates is an unrestricted free agent. Will he remain a Charger for at least one more season?

2018 free agency: OL Matt Slauson & Kenny Wiggins

2018 free agency: LB Korey Toomer

2018 free agency: FS Tre Boston

2018 free agency: RB Branden Oliver

2018 free agency: QB Kellen Clemens

2018 free agency: DE Jeremiah Attaochu

Antonio Gates is no longer “the guy.”

The future Hall of Fame tight end has rightfully been replaced by 2016 second-round pick Hunter Henry. Gates, who played all 16 games in 2017, finished the season with 30 receptions for 316 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers were the lowest since Gates’ rookie year (2003). The highlight of his season was passing Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown catches by a tight end in NFL history.

Gates will turn 38 years old in June. However, he proved that he had something left in the tank after replacing Henry, who was placed on injured reserve with a minor laceration on his kidney, in the starting lineup the last two weeks of the regular season. He combined for 10 receptions for 127 yards and one touchdown in Weeks 16-17, including making some spectacular diving and sideline catches.

Gates, who signed a two-year, $11 million deal in 2016, is now an unrestricted free agent. He’s no longer the offensive threat we’re used to seeing, but he understands his role as a backup and, like we witnessed, is more effective, as well as important to the team, when he’s fresh.

Gates stated that winning a Super Bowl is the top priority at this point. With the Chargers winning nine of their last 12 games and on the cusp of being one of the most talented and complete teams in the AFC, I’d say that it has inspired hope and gave confidence for Gates to continue his career with the Chargers.

And after spending his entire 15-year career with the Chargers, there’s no way Tom Telesco and Co. lets Gates walk. A one- or two-year deal is fair and won’t hurt the team.

As for the tight end position, the Chargers need to add depth. Jeff Cumberland, Sean McGrath and Asante Cleveland are all free agents, too, with McGrath being a restricted free agent. Henry and Sean Culkin are the only TEs on the current roster. Even if the Chargers re-sign Gates, who will almost certainly play his final season in 2018, it’d be smart to add another body via the draft, especially since I don’t seem them keeping Cumberland, McGrath and Cleveland. If the Chargers don’t want to use a late-round pick on a tight end prospect, then look for them to key in on undrafted free agents. They’ve had success in that department in recent years, finding receiver Tyrell Williams (2015) and running back Austin Ekeler (2017), both of whom are solid contributors on offense.

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