San Diego is witnessing the end of an era at Qualcomm Stadium. Regardless of whether this team moves to Los Angeles, the Chargers' roster will soon be unrecognizable thanks to many of the team's longtime leaders and veterans choosing to leave via free agency and retirement. This offseason, the Chargers have already lost Ryan Mathews, Nick Hardwick, Jarret Johnson and Marcus Gilchrist. With Antonio Gates entering his final season of his contract, this brings up the question of how much longer No. 85 will be a Charger.
Gates will earn $5.9 million in 2015 and would enter the 2016 season as an unrestricted free agent. At 34 years old, he will be entering his 13th season with the Chargers. Gates is coming off a season that saw him score 12 touchdowns -- the second most in his career -- and play in all 16 games for a second straight season (which he hadn't done since 2008 and 2009). Only three other players in league history have caught that many touchdowns in a season at the age of 34. But even if Gates puts up comparable numbers in 2015, would GM Tom Telesco be willing to resign a 35-year-old veteran for an offensive MVP price tag? Especially with Ladarius Green in the wings?
There's no arguing 2014 was a bust season for Green, who entered the season with so much promise and upside. What was supposed to be his breakout year turned into 226 yards and no touchdowns, hardly Julius Thomas numbers. There were times during the season that seemed like coach Mike McCoy had simply given up on Green. Rarely did the team run two tight end sets with both Gates and Green involved. Could it be that Green's lack of opportunities were a direct result of Gates' standout year?
Gates was on the field for 787 snaps last season after taking 996 the previous year. Football players are not like baseball pitchers, there's no such thing as a snap-limit to a season, but the Chargers might be wise to limit Gates' snap count in order to avoid injuries to one of their most dependable receivers. Consider the fact that Green logged only 289 total offensive snaps last season. McCoy has stated this offseason that the team needs to start targeting Green more often to get his productivity going. But if Green continues to play special teams over offense, it might be difficult to find a way to get Green involved.
Although Gates told NFL.com he feels the fact he never played college football gives his body an edge over his like-aged peers, he has already begun the process of starting a career after football. Gates has become a boxing promoter in Detroit. After seeing many of his former teammates like LaDainian Tomlinson and Hardwick retire, it's left Gates in a position to wonder about his own future after football will be like.
With Dwight Freeney also gone, Gates has become the latest player to claim the title of Oldest Charger. But don't let the age number get in the way of the performance numbers. Gates can continue to find the end zone. But with only one year left under contract, and the team continuing to move in a new direction both on the field and off, how much longer will he be putting up those numbers as a Charger?