After catching 114 touchdown passes for the Los Angeles Chargers, the most in NFL history by a tight end, it seems Antonio Gates’ run with the team is nearing an official close.
Gates became a free agent following the 2017 season and to this point, the Chargers have yet to re-sign him. Instead, they grabbed Virgil Green off the free-agent market, a player known more for his blocking than his receiving.
Gates will turn 38 years old in June and his best days as an NFL tight end are clearly behind him. His reception numbers have dropped each year since the 2013 season, so it’s easy to see why the Chargers seem to be moving on, right?
Not so fast.
Gates has literally given everything of himself for the team, becoming one of the best tight ends in NFL history in the process. For a franchise that has had a tough time showing loyalty, it’s not a great look to just let Gates’ career with the team end this way.
Hunter Henry has clearly become the top receiving option at the tight end position for the Chargers, but unless the team plans to switch to a power-rushing attack, I’d argue that a 38-year old Gates would still bring more value than Green.
The crafty veteran still catches just about everything thrown his way and even in his advanced age, he still knows how to use his body to shield off defenders to make plays in the passing game, particularly near the end zone.
After Henry was lost for the season last year, the Chargers faced the New York Jets in Week 16 in a must-win situation. Having to turn to the veteran, Gates answered the bell by catching six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. In the season finale against Oakland, he reeled in another six passes for 46 yards.
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He can still get it done when called upon. It’s not like that’s ancient history. Those games were just over three months ago.
Unless Gates has told the team he’d like to wait until later this summer to sign a new deal or he’s told the team he plans to retire and is just waiting to make that announcement, it’s strange that the team wouldn’t give him one final one-year deal.
Henry and Green are one thing, but don’t tell me that Sean McGrath, Sean Culkin, Asante Cleveland and Braedon Bowman are more worthy of a roster spot than No. 85.