Since 2003, Antonio Gates has been a staple of the Chargers’ offense, having survived three head coaching changes, three general managers and a slew of offensive coordinators. However, all good things must come to an end, and Gates’ tenure is one of them.
The Chargers have a history of letting former greats walk as they near the end of their careers, as seen with Rodney Harrison, Junior Seau and most recently, LaDainian Tomlinson. Another factor that could lead into Gates getting cut is the fact that Ladarius Green has arrived on the scene as a freakishly athletic pass catcher and blocker that is considerably cheaper than Gates. In 2013, Green played in all 16 games, and saw his production increase when back up tight end John Philips went down with an injury, allowing him to finish up his second pro season with 17 receptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns.
While those numbers may seem a bit low, one has to consider the fact that Green played in an offense that included the likes of Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Antonio Gates all vying for targets from a resurgent Philip Rivers. Make no mistake about it, the Chargers’ brass is very high on Green, as evident by General Manager Tom Telesco’s remarks during his State of the Chargers press conference earlier in the year:
“Ladarius does give us some of that big play ability. With that long stride, it’s deceiving how fast he really is. He can run away from defensive backs and has made some big plays for us this year. I know he had that drop in the Denver game and I don’t remember having another drop all year. He had a good year for us and he is coming along as a blocker. He’s not the biggest body in the world, but he gets in there and fights with people.He definitely has a role moving forward.”
Outside of having Ladarius Green nipping at his heels, Gates also has to fear the Chargers’ salary cap situation. Gates is currently slated to make a $5.9 million base salary in 2015, with a $2.3 million prorated bonus at a time when he will be over 35 years old. The Chargers can save the $5.9 million and eat the $2.3 million in dead money should they choose to cut the veteran prior to the start of the 2015 season. Alternatively, they can also restructure his deal, opting to raise his bonus and reduce his base salary, as they recently did with Philip Rivers.
The Chargers also have multiple free agents that they would like to bring back after the 2014 season including Ryan Mathews, whom Head Coach Mike McCoy seems high on to be the workhorse running back going forward. Other notable free agents include Marcus Gilchrist, Jeromey Clary, Nick Hardwick, Vincent Brown and the recently signed Brandon Flowers. Philip Rivers will also be a free agent following the 2015 season and the Bolts might opt to resign him before he hits the market.
In terms of production, Gates is still a vital part of the Charger offense, having caught 77 receptions for 872 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2013. However, with Ladarius Green arriving on the scene, a messy salary cap situation and age are all factors that could see us say farewell to the future Hall of Famer after the 2014 season.