Antonio Gates has been busy adding to his résumé lately. Last October, he passed Hall of Famer Lance Alworth as the franchise leader in all-time receiving yards. Two months later, he joined the exclusive fraternity of NFL tight ends with over 10,000 career receiving yards (a group that includes just Gates, Shannon Sharpe, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez).
He has another major accomplishment in his sights, too, as he is just one touchdown catch away from 100 for his career (a milestone only eight players have ever reached). Unfortunately, he will have to make room on his résumé for one more thing -- an asterisk.
The NFL announced on Thursday that Gates has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He will miss home games against the Lions and Browns and road contests against the Bengals and Vikings, making his return in Week 5 for a Monday night game against the Steelers at Qualcomm Stadium.
"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said in a statement. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and never taken any substance that was illegal or banned by the NFL.
"In an effort to recover from a long season and although I was unaware at the time, I regret to confirm that I tested positive for a substance that is currently on the NFL banned substance list. As an NFL veteran and team leader, I should have done my due diligence to ensure that what I was taking for recovery was within the NFL guidelines. I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues, and I take full responsibility for my actions."
The Chargers were quick to go public in their support of Gates, who prior to this suspension was considered a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"We are tremendously disappointed for our team and our fans as well as Antonio, but no more disappointed than Antonio is with himself," the team said in a statement. "Antonio is a member of the Chargers' family and we will continue to support him 100-percent. We have the utmost confidence he will stay in excellent shape for the season and be ready to go when he returns in Week 5.
"While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the season, we have complete confidence our tight end group will continue to play at a high level."
That tight end group will now be led by Ladarius Green, who like Gates is entering the final year of his contract. Therein lies the silver-lining, as the Chargers will now get a chance to see how Green functions as the No. 1 tight end.
Green was already viewed as a likely breakout candidate after an unexpectedly quiet 2014 campaign.
The Chargers, who do not carry a traditional fullback, will also use more three- and four-receiver sets during Gates' absence. That plays more to San Diego's strengths, as Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd and Dontrelle Inman compose one of the deepest receiving groups in the league.
Chargers fans can only hope Gates' career does not take a Shawne Merriman-esque dive upon his return. Merriman was suspended for four games in 2006 for PED use and was never the same player afterwards (whether that is because of a knee injury suffered in a later game against the Titans or because he got off steroids is still up for debate).
Gates does not rely on speed and explosiveness like Merriman did, which bodes well for him picking up where he left off. However, Gates, 35, is also much closer to the end of his career.
Two days before this suspension was announced, I wrote a story for Football Insiders (read it here) identifying Gates as one of five AFC veterans in danger of seeing his productivity fall off the proverbial cliff in 2015. I never imagined that cliff would be so precipitous.
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Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. In addition to being publisher of SDBoltReport.com, he works as the Senior NFL Reporter for Footballinsiders.com. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.