The San Diego Chargers have been one of the teams few and far between that have had a great tight end over the past decade. Antonio Gates has been lighting up the NFL, and it's difficult to believe he was an undrafted free agent signing prior to the 2003 season.
Gates is and has been a great weapon on the Chargers' offense. Arguably the most dangerous receiving option for the Bolts, opponents' defenses have always had to game plan specifically for No. 85, even though it almost never slows him down. He has the combination of size, speed, route running, catching and blocking ability that is very rare for a tight end.
With that said, he is getting older. Add that to his injury troubles the past few seasons, and it does not equal a lengthy remainder of his football career. If Philip Rivers and the Chargers are lucky, he could have three or four more Pro Bowl seasons left while finishing his career as one of—if not the most—productive tight ends in NFL history.
A move that should at least be talked about, though, is making a trade with the New England Patriots for one of their two young tight end studs, Aaron Hernandez.
Hernandez was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Patriots in what would end up being a very nice value pick.
They could get away with trading Hernandez, though, because their other stud tight end, Rob Gronkowski, was a touchdown machine last season, landing in the end zone 10 total times. Gronkowski seems more like an every-down player, which could make Hernandez expendable.
Bill Belichick has been known to make deals to gain draft picks for the future, so it would not be surprising to see him pull the trigger on a trade involving Hernandez—as long as it brought back good value to his team.
San Diego Chargers Would Receive: TE Aaron Hernandez and Patriots' 2012 Sixth-Round Pick
New England Patriots Would Receive: Chargers' 2012 Third- and Fourth-Round Picks
The Chargers would come away from this trade with the 21-year-old Hernandez and a late-round pick in next year's draft, barring there is one.
Hernandez would not only be an exceptional backup to Gates, but he would learn from one of the players he looked up to while growing up and one of the game's best ever. Whenever Gates makes the decision to hang up the cleats—hopefully a decision for the distant future—the Chargers would have a mentally and physically prepared Hernandez to take over the reigns at tight end.
Hernandez would have to change his jersey number because he also wears No. 85, but that would be no problem at all given the bright future he would have in San Diego.