In the wake of Hunter Henry’s devastating ACL injury on the first day of offseason team activities, it was prognosticated that the Chargers would have no choice but to bring back tight end Antonio Gates.
That was two months ago.
Gates remains unsigned and, largely, uncourted by any NFL teams. The Chargers have been the only team that has given any indication of interest in Gates’ services. These comments, however, might have been smoke without fire. Antonio Gates is a Chargers legend. He has fans and he has records, and the Chargers would not be so tone deaf as to not comment on his possible return to the team.
In June, team GM Tom Telesco wrote the following during a live chat on Chargers.com:
“Would be a natural fit, right? I saw that Philip [Rivers] voted for it. When it comes to roster moves, we are not a democracy. But we are not a dictatorship either. His vote was noted and accounted for. Antonio’s accomplishments and contributions to this organization are immeasurable. We will see what the future holds. I don’t have an update at this time.”
This statement was a perfect blend of ego-brushing and non-commitment, the kind that GMs are hired for and expected to excel at to keep rumors alive but agents wondering. There have been a few more comments, very much identical in substance and tone, but no real news has hit regarding the Chargers tight end plans for 2018.
Make no mistake— the Chargers need help at TE. Hunter Henry was their future and their current plan, and those plans just received a nasty ACL monkey wrench to mess up the works.
However, if we step back and look a little, this might actually be the Chargers being prudent. Antonio Gates is a legend, but legends are told after the fact. Gates has been largely a non-factor through his most recent 2-year contract. He received about 5.5 million per year through that extension, or $10,036 per yard in 2016 and $17,207 per yard in 2017.
Signing Antonio Gates is only helpful in adding a little bit more depth to a stressed position and selling more merchandise at the team store.
With a current cap room at 8.5 million, the Chargers actually have the upper hand. They could give Gates whatever it is that he is asking for— no doubt that the Bolts are negotiating more toward the veteran minimum of just over 1 million for a player of his stature. Gates is no doubt aiming closer to his last payday; I would assume around 4 million. It’s become a game of chicken, very much in the spirit of what the Steelers are experiencing with their star RB’s franchise deal. The difference is that the Chargers have a whole lot more flexibility, as their entire offense does not center around this hole in the TE chart.
As the clock ticks down toward the regular season, one of the sides will blink. I’m sure that the Chargers would love to have Gates back for 1 or 2 million—that’s basically a steal. Antonio Gates will have to decide if the toll on his body is worth playing at a discount compared to what he’s used to.
- Jason “Tight Pockets” Michaels