• Sunday, September 23, 2018
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L.A. Chargers re-sign tight end Antonio Gates for 16th season

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates (85) greets fans before an NFL football game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J., in 2017. Gates has re-signed with the Los Angeles Chargers for his 16th season. The Chargers announced the one-year deal today.

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COSTA MESA, Calif. >> Tight end Antonio Gates re-signed with the Los Angeles Chargers today for his 16th season.

Four months after the Chargers publicly bade farewell to the leading receiver in franchise history, they welcomed him back one week before the start of the regular season with a one-year deal.

The Bolts’ plans changed in May when starting tight end Hunter Henry tore a knee ligament during offseason workouts, likely sidelining him for the season.

The 38-year-old Gates and the Chargers waited until the day before the first week of game preparation for the regular season to formalize his return to his only NFL team.

Once an undrafted free agent who played only basketball at Kent State, Gates is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and the Chargers’ career leader in receptions (927), yards receiving (11,508) and touchdowns (114). He set the NFL record for touchdown receptions by a tight end last September, surpassing Tony Gonzalez with his 112th TD catch.

But Gates’ 30 receptions last season were his fewest since his rookie year in 2003, and his 316 yards receiving were a career low as Henry took the majority of the big snaps. Gates started only four games, but he excelled when Henry was out with a bruised kidney late last season.

While Gates and the Chargers have been in talks about a return for several weeks, the club also didn’t identify a strong solution to Henry’s absence during training camp or the preseason. Newcomer Virgil Green is a veteran blocking tight end with pass-catching ability, but the Chargers still needed a strong receiver at the spot.

Los Angeles set its 53-man roster Saturday with just two tight ends: Green and undrafted second-year pro Sean Culkin, who has never caught a pass in an NFL game.

Gates has a profound connection with Philip Rivers, who joined the Chargers in 2004 and has been their starting quarterback in every game since 2006. Rivers has thrown 87 touchdown passes to Gates, and they trail only Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison as the most prolific TD duo in NFL history.

Gates will be another solid target in the Chargers’ potent offense, which led the NFL with 276.9 yards passing last season. With Gates’ return, Rivers’ top eight receivers from last season are still with the Bolts.

The Chargers open the season at home against Kansas City on Sept. 9.

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