Antonio Gates is officially tied with Tony Gonzalez for the most TDs by a tight end over a career in the NFL with 111 over 14 seasons. While Antonio Gates has played three fewer seasons than Tony Gonzalez at this point and had about 4,000 fewer yards, his body is deteriorating at a faster rate than Tony Gonzalez’s body was towards the end of his career. Gates ended this season with 548 yards on 53 receptions with 7 TDs. At times, he was not the best tight end on the field for the Chargers, and with Philip Rivers forcing him the ball to get him the record, hopefully, the pressure will be lessened this season because Gates only needs one TD to be the leader. Rob Gronkowski is the next closest active TE with 68 TDs, followed by Jason Witten with 63, and Jimmy Graham with 58. By the end of his career, Rob Gronkowski will probably have more TDs, as he’s only 27 years old.
The other TE on the field for the Chargers that I was talking about earlier was none other than stellar rookie Hunter Henry. In an otherwise weak draft, Hunter Henry was the consensus top Tight End, with smooth receiving skills (and rare drops), mixed with the best blocking in the draft, and the Chargers scored with their second round pick, despite what many people around here thought. Much better of a successor to Gates than Ladarius Green, Hunter Henry received for 478 yards and 8 TDs (tied for the league lead for a TE) on 36 receptions. Based on a per-reception stat, Hunter Henry was much more effective than Gates for the Chargers, and Gates being on the field has stunted Hunter Henry from showing his whole bag of tricks. Look for Hunter Henry to take a bigger role next season, with closer to 50 receptions and 700 yards, with about 8 TDs again.
Behind the two phenomenal starters, the Chargers don’t currently have anyone under contract for the 2017 season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers brought back 29-year-old, 3rd year pro Sean McGrath on a cheap contract similar to the $525,000 he made this season. He wasn’t used much, and has had success in the league, and is a good (cheap) insurance policy in case something happens to one of the two starters.
In free agency, Anthony Fasano, Vernon Davis, and Brandon Myers should all be available, but they’re all too old, and won’t be cheap enough. Outside of that, no one who is very exciting will be available for the right price.
In the draft, someone like Bucky Hodges, a 6’7, 245 lb hybrid with 4.67 speed could be a possibility in round 4, to eventually move into the 2nd string place when Antonio Gates leaves, but TE isn’t a pressing need, and I don’t see the Chargers going into 2017 with any more than 3. Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates make up one of the best tandems in the league.