The Los Angeles Chargers convincingly won their season closer on Sunday vs divisional rivals Oakland Raiders, to finish with a 9-7 record. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to extend their season further, with other results not going their way in the last week. The consequence of that means a number of Chargers, with expiring contracts, could have played their final game for the club. One of those is Future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates. Now 37 years-old, the Chargers legend may have thought about retirement more than a few times over the last couple of years.
Let’s flashback to the end of the 2016 season. Gates had a decision to make. The Chargers had just finished 5-11, their Head Coach was about to be fired. Not to mention. there was that small matter of a team relocation. An easy way out some would say. However, Gates put that to bed, quickly.
“It’s hard to leave like this the way things have been, and the adversity we’ve had to overcome this year. I feel great physically. This is not the way I expected to be done. I’m leaning toward coming back.” – He said to reporters after the final game of 2016.
Additionally, Gates may have had the all-time TE touchdown record in his mind, which he was tied with Tony Gonzalez for, not that he’d ever admit that.
He did, of course, already have a contract in place last time around.
Back to the present, and the 16-year veteran did break that record in week 2, during the loss to Miami. This time around, without a contract, Gates has another decision to make.
Antonio Gates says he wants to play next season, but hasn’t decided whether he will return to the Chargers or try another team.
— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) January 1, 2018
One year later, it seems as if he has committed to another year of football, and that should be with the Chargers.
The changing of the guard has been happening at the Tight End position for the Bolts since Hunter Henry was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft. 2017 was the year that Henry established himself as the #1 TE on the team. In Henry’s rookie year, the pair had similar snap count percentages but that soon changed. Gates went from 54.93% to 47.09%, whereas Henry’s slightly increased from 53.80% to 56.20%. Note, this is the first time since 2014 that Gates has played all 16 games, while Henry missed the last two of the season. This makes the changes even more significant.
Together with the decrease in snaps, Gates had career lows in yards, touchdowns and first downs. And the lowest amount of receptions since his rookie year.
With that being said, Gates still has a place on the football team. Looking at the current depth chart, behind Henry, he’s by far the best catching TE on the roster and it’s not close. With Henry down for the final two fixtures, Gates proved he could still do it with the best of them. He finished with 10 receptions, 127 yards and a touchdown vs the Jets and Raiders.
The Chargers aren’t known to be good dealing with their long-term veterans (See: Eric Weddle), which worries fans greatly going into the off-season. Gates won’t cost much, so hopefully, there will be no hiccups because seeing him in a different uniform would be hard to take. It would be great to see Gates, with Rivers, in the postseason together, again.
–Thomas Herd is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @chargers_uk.