Antonio Gates has spent the last 16 seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, but all good things must come to an end.
Gates is currently a free agent but he was a free agent at this time last year as well. Tom Telesco had his number handy and likely let him know a phone call would come if the Chargers needed him, similar to when the city of Gotham needed Batman.
That call came a few months after Hunter Henry went down with a season-ending injury and no one was able to step up at the tight end position in training camp. Gates’ services became necessary.
The Chargers are in basically the same boat going into this year’s camp, aside from that fact that Henry has made it through OTAs unscathed. The team will be looking for a tight end to emerge from the pack and that player could be Sean Culkin.
Culkin has made the team the last two seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and according to Bleacher Report, he has been the breakout star for the Chargers in OTAs.
Chargers OC Ken Whisenhunt said TE Sean Culkin has looked better and has had a good spring. He hopes that continues into training camp.
— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) May 28, 2019
For his career, Culkin has caught just one pass for 24 yards. According to Pro Football Reference, Culkin was used on 19.2 percent of the Chargers’ offensive snaps. Gates saw action on 36.8 percent of the snaps, so it’s not unreasonable to think that Culkin could take the rest of that load, particularly if he can showcase more of his skills as a receiver this summer.
The tight end position will be an interesting one to watch for the Chargers going into the season. Aside from Henry, Virgil Green and Culkin, the Chargers have four other tight ends on the roster. Matt Sokol, Daniel Helm, Vince Mayle and Andrew Vollert will all have the same opportunity, which could essentially mean the end of Gates. But Culkin has to be considered the frontrunner at this particular moment.
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Many fans will want Gates back, and that makes sense. It’s hard to imagine that after all the great years of service he has provided to the team, that he could be the odd man out on what could be the best roster the team has had in recent memory.
With that said, there are only 53 roster spots in the NFL and the teams that reach the promised land need every one of those. And let’s be honest, what would the team really be losing in Gates? He will be 39 years old in about two weeks, he’s not going to run past anyone and his best days are clearly well behind him. If a player (or players) can’t convince the team that it doesn’t need Gates anymore, it will mean the Chargers had a lackluster group of tight ends in for camp again. Honestly.
But at the end of the day, Henry and Green are going to handle most of the heavy lifting. If Gates is again along for the ride to give the team whatever he can in its quest for a Super Bowl victory, it wouldn’t be the worst thing either.