Antonio Gates was perhaps the greatest steal in San Diego Charger history. An undrafted free agent from Kent State, he has played 10 seasons in the NFL, all with the Chargers. The tight end has been selected to 8 Pro Bowls and leads the Chargers in all time receptions with 642. Gates ranks second all-time with touchdowns by a tight end, only behind Tony Gonzalez. However, Gates has played six less seasons then Gonzalez and is only behind by 20 touchdowns. There is no questioning Gates’ greatness, and he is a lock to be in the NFL Hall of Fame. The question is, how much longer will Gates be able to play in the NFL.
Critics are concerned with Gates’ overall health because he hasn’t played a complete season since 2009. He played in at least 10 games each season since, but in many of the games he had lingering injury. As Gates is now 33 years old, the risk of injury only increases the more he plays. Injury prone football players usually don’t have long careers, especially in a position such as the TE because it requires great athletic ability and durability.
While injury is definitely an area for major concern, it may be one of the only ones. If we look at the statistics Gates posted last season, Charger fans shouldn’t be alarmed about Gates’ playing ability. Last season, he recorded 49 receptions for 538 yards and brought in 7 touchdowns. That number is about 15 receptions and 300 yards short of what he normally averages, but he still brought in 7 touchdowns. In his 10th season in the NFL, Tony Gonzalez only had 5 touchdowns. This comparison shows that Gates has just as much left in the tank as Gonzalez did and should easily be able to continue to play at a high level. Another factor to consider was that last season Philip Rivers played terribly. It is not fair to blame Gates because he wasn’t exactly working with a quarterback who could utilize him to the best of his ability. It isn’t even fair to blame Rivers either because the offensive line was horrendous.
Gates clearly still has the ability to perform at a high level. Last season only 5 TE’s had more touchdowns then Gates did, proving he not only can play, but is one of the best in his position. If Rivers can bounce back next season, expect even a better year for the TE that has been a household name for years in the NFL. The only major concern still his Gates’ ability to stay healthy. If he can’t, his future in the NFL may end much sooner then he would like. However, if Gates is able to stay healthy, there is no reason that he can’t have at least four seasons in the NFL. If he continues to perform the way he does, he should even pass Tony Gonzalez as all time leading scorer for the tight end position. The Gates—are definitely open.