I don't mean to alarm you, but at this time tomorrow Antonio Gates will be free to sign with any NFL team he chooses. For the first time in his life, essentially.
In 2005, after two years of being way better than he had any right to be, Gates held out and got paid closer to what he deserved with a 6-year contract worth $22.5 million. In 2010, just before entering the final year of that deal, Gates signed a 5-year extension worth a $36.1 million.
It's amazing that Gates has outlasted both of those contracts, and essentially lived up to their incredibly high value. He'll get paid less this time around, and probably only has a couple of years left, but he has options.
Gates will undoubtedly have his choice of at least several different similar options from several different teams, which means he'll likely be able to jump from the 4-12 Chargers to a Super Bowl contender should he want to chase the ring before he retires.
The Chargers will be one of the offers that he receives, but they have other concerns on their roster, so they won't really be able to overpay Gates to get him to stay.
Does Gates want to spend his twilight NFL seasons in front of the fans that love him with teammates he knows, or does he want to chase money, or a Super Bowl ring? I suspect we'll find the answer to that terrifying question tomorrow.