Veteran tight end Antonio Gates is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, but the longtime Charger doesn’t figure to hit actually hit the open market. San Diego is expected to meet with Gates’ agent Tom Condon at the combine next week, and the presumption is that the two sides will hammer out a deal, according to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, who reports that an “air of formality” surrounds the discussions.
“We’ll talk to Tom Condon in a little more detail in Indy, and we’ll talk to Ladarius [Green]‘s guy in Indy as well,” general manger Tom Telesco told Gehlken. “It’s February, and we’ve got until September to get the position together the best way we see fit. So, we’ll see. Through our own players, through free agency and through the draft, we’ll see.”
As Telesco notes, fellow tight end Green is a free agent as well, as are two other Chargers tight ends, John Phillips and David Johnson. The 25-year-old Green played the most snaps of the bunch, while Phillips is a core special teamer, having played on nearly 70% of San Diego’s special teams snaps. With more than $31MM in projected cap space, the Chargers should be able to retain whomever they want from their tight end group (though it’s possible Green will seek an opportunity where he could be the clear cut starter).
For his part, Gates, 35, had previously expressed his desire to play in 2016, noting his displeasure with how the Chargers — who ended up posting a 4-12 record — played in 2015. And just last month, Telesco indicated that he’d love to have Gates back in San Diego, so it’s not surprising that Gehlken reports that contract talks are expected to be a breeze.
Gates’ counting stats were down last year, but that was largely because of his four-game absence due of a PED suspension. On a rate basis, his productivity was in line with recent seasons, as he averaged 57.3 receiving yards per game while scoring five times. Coming off a five-year deal that paid him more than $7MM annually, Gates could ask for the same yearly value, albeit on a shorter contract.
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