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Make or Break Year: TE Antonio Gates

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Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers jumps into the endzone to score a touchdwon in front of David Jones #31 Russell Allen #50 and Sean Considine #37 of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Antonio Gates #85 of the San Diego Chargers jumps into the endzone to score a touchdwon in front of David Jones #31 Russell Allen #50 and Sean Considine #37 of the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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A couple of days ago, our buddy Michael Gehlken wrote this fluff-piece about Antonio Gates and how healthy he feels. I paid it very little attention because the goal isn't to see if Antonio can get healthy in the 5 months after the season ends, it's to see if his feet can take the pounding of a 17+ week NFL schedule.

Ask any San Diego Chargers fan how many years Gates has left as an elite NFL Tight End. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Are you back? Yeah, got kind of a vague answer, didn't you? That's because nobody knows. One of the best things about Antonio was that his body didn't take the pounding of football when he was in college, so he was always fresher and stronger than other TEs that were his age. He played seven seasons without missing a game due to injury, but hasn't been able to play in more than 13 games in either of the last two seasons (and has been obviously injured most of the time he's on the field as well). Most of the other guys playing his position are now younger than him.

Now add to the mix that Antonio Gates is about to get very, very expensive. He made $4 million last year (with a $6.5 million cap hit), making him one of the highest paid Tight Ends in the game, and was 10th amongst TEs in receiving yardage. He has four years left on his contract that pay him more each season. In 2015, the San Diego Chargers are scheduled to pay Gates $5.9 million ($8.4 million cap hit).

San Diego couldn't cut Gates. It'd be nearly impossible with the cap hit they would be taking. I believe they'd take the same cap hit if they traded him. He'll most likely be a Charger for the next four years. However, that big contract is going to annoy some fans if Gates goes through another year of injuries. So, here's to hoping that the signs of good health for Antonio in the offseason equal and healthier regular season.