By Dave Thomas
Antonio Gates, TE #85
Height: 6’ 4”
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
College: Kent State
He has been one of the most reliable tight ends in his decade in the NFL. Along with his on the field skills, he has been one of the more popular players both in the clubhouse and in the community. So, as the San Diego Chargers head into the final six games of what is shaping up as a third straight season of missing the playoffs, one can’t help but think if the days of Antonio Gates in a Chargers’ uniform are winding down too.
When you think of the top tight ends in the game over the last several years or so, names like Tony Gonzalez (16 years), Jason Witten (10 years) and Gates (also a decade) should automatically come to mind. While none of those mentioned have a Super Bowl ring to their credit, they have been stalwarts on their respective teams for longer than most fans remember.
Gonzalez, who played most of his career as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, goes into action next weekend for the Atlanta Falcons with more than 1,200 receptions and 101 TDs. Witten just recently became the all-time leading receiver in Cowboys’ history, sitting at 769 receptions as Dallas prepares to host arch-rival Washington this Thanksgiving Day.
Gates, meantime, has been the go-to man for Drew Brees and Philip Rivers over the last decade in San Diego, tallying 623 receptions to date (80 TDs). In doing so, Gates is San Diego’s all-time receptions leader. Gates accomplished that feat in his hometown of Detroit last year in a loss to the Lions, surpassing wide receiving legend Charlie Joiner at 586 receptions.
Foot Injuries Have Slowed Gates At Times
Despite all the accolades over his decade in the NFL, Gates has had to battle nagging injuries if not every year, every other year. In doing so, the question of his durability has certainly come up more than a time or two.
Heading into this Sunday’s home game against Baltimore, Gates has 30 receptions (355 yards) and four touchdowns in nine games (missed the Tennessee game) this season.
While he is more than likely headed to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, one can’t also neglect the notion that Gates may be on the downward side of his outstanding career. Gates, who had his most receptions during the 2005 campaign (89), has been as dependable and consistent as they come, even while the 2010 season saw him getting action in only 10 games. Off-and-on foot issues have been one of the bigger problems for Gates to overcome during his time in Southern California.
Having signed a 5-year $36 million contract ($20 million guaranteed) at the start of the 2010 season, would and should the Bolts even toil with the idea of trying to get something for him after this season while he is still a receiving threat? Keep in mind, the Chiefs did just that with Gonzalez, trading him to the Falcons in the spring of 2009 for a second-round draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Given that there appear to be changes on the horizon for a San Diego franchise that continues to under perform just about every year for the last decade or so, could Gates be one of those catching balls elsewhere down the road?
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Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.