Antonio Gates #85
The San Diego Chargers were in the need of a tight end when the 2002 season concluded. The team had just drafted LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees and had a solid young nucleus of offensive players. The tight end position had been one of weakness for the team in the past few seasons. Instead of using a high draft pick on a rookie tight end, the team took a look at a basketball player from Kent State.
Antonio Gates was a great basketball player receiving Honorable Mention for All-American consideration his senior year. At 6 foot 4 inches Gates was considered too small for the NBA so he pursued his fall back sport of football. As many as 19 teams were in contact with Gates about arranging a try out. Gates himself arranged a tryout with the San Diego Chargers, and the team did not hesitate on signing the free agent to a professional contract.
In Gates rookie season, at the age of 23, he caught 24 balls for 389 yards and two touchdowns. He showed amazing awareness on the field and the team was excited of his potential. The following year in 2004 Gates caught 81 passes for 964 yards and set a record for touchdowns from a tight end with 13. He was quickly emerging as a strength for the blossoming Chargers offense.
Gates held out for a new contract before the start of the 2005 season. The team finally gave in, giving him a six year-$24 million dollar deal but suspended the tight end for one game to start the season. Gates was to be suspended for holding out and not reporting to camp on time. Gates instantly justified the contract by catching 89 balls for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Chargers ended up missing the playoffs by one game that season.
The next four seasons, Gates played every game and was a threat on the field for the Bolts. He averaged 71 catches and 942 yards with eight 1/2 touch downs during this four-year span. Including his best year (2009) as a professional where he totaled 79 catches for 1,157 yards and eight touch downs. The change at quarterback from Drew Brees to Philip Rivers did nothing to slow down his production. Gates immediately gained chemistry with his new quarterback and the two formed a formidable duo.
After his best season in the league, Gates was at the end of his contract. He signed a five year-$36 million dollar deal with $20 million of it guaranteed. Gates battled toe and foot injuries during the season and only managed to play in 10 games for the Chargers. He still had decent year producing 50 catches for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was invited to his seventh straight Pro-Bowl but declined to lingering injury issues.
The 2011 season was again an injury plagued year for Gates. He only played in 13 games, but still performed at a high level for the Bolts. Antonio Gates has also managed to perform every year for the past three years for the Chargers. He has proved to be very durable despite having minor foot and toe issues. The daily grind of a football season can be brutal on a player, but Gates has shown great consistency.
The eight time Pro-Bowl tight end is also a five time All Pro selection for the Chargers. He is the current Chargers all time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Gates is in the twilight of his career and will surely be enshrined in the Hall-Of-Fame along side Winslow one day. Antonio Gates is a free agent at the end of the 2015-16 football season. He would like to end his career as a Charger and the team has a lot of unanswered questions. Philip Rivers, Eric Weddle and Malcolm Floyd are all free agents as well and the team will need to be creative to keep all the lifetime Chargers beyond this upcoming season.
Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow are two of the greatest of all time at the tight end position. Chargers fans are lucky to have witnessed each play the game in the city of San Diego. They were and are special players that will always be held in high regard to Chargers fans.