The Los Angeles Chargers told tight end Antonio Gates in April they weren’t going to re-sign him. That was that.
Then Hunter Henry, Gates’ replacement as the Chargers’ full-time tight end, tore his ACL. And after months of everyone figuring the Chargers would eventually sign their all-time great tight end back, it finally happened.
Gates, who is now 38, reached an agreement to rejoin the Chargers, the team announced Sunday.
Chargers were thin after Hunter Henry injury
Gates is unquestionably an NFL legend. He broke the record last season for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history. He has a Hall-of-Fame resume. He’s an eight-time Pro Bowler, his 927 receptions are 20th all-time, his 11,508 yards puts him at 30th in NFL history and his 114 touchdown receptions are sixth on the list.
That said, it’s a move out of desperation for the Chargers.
The Chargers are a talented team but found out quickly they weren’t equipped to withstand an injury to Henry. There was very little left at tight end without Henry, and that’s why the Gates speculation started immediately. However, the Chargers seem to think Henry could return at some point late this season considering they put him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and not season-ending injured reserve.
Without much to get excited about on the current roster, the Chargers hope to rekindle some magic with Gates.
Antonio Gates’ value could come near the end zone
In each of the last four seasons, Gates’ yardage has dipped from the previous year. Gates had just 316 yards in a limited role last season. It’s hard to bet on a 38-year-old tight end to have a bounce-back season.
The most value Gates provides now could be in the red zone. He had three touchdowns last season and seven the year before. He’s still a big body who knows how to get open in a confined space, and quarterback Philip Rivers trusts him near the goal line. It’s hard to envision Gates putting up 1,000 yards like he did in his prime, or anywhere close to that, but perhaps he can be an asset in the red zone.
It looked for a long time this summer like Gates’ great career might be over. But, instead of having his jersey retired by the Chargers this season, he’ll be wearing it yet again.
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