Former Chargers TE Antonio Gates Retires After 16 Seasons in NFL

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2020

CARSON, CA - DECEMBER 31:  Antonio Gates #85 of the Los Angeles Chargers is seen running onto the field prior to the game against the Oakland Raiders at StubHub Center on December 31, 2017 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

After a 16-year career with the Los Angeles Chargers, All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates is officially hanging up his cleats. 

Gates announced Tuesday that he is retiring at the age of 39:

Antonio Gates @AntonioGates85


Even though Gates didn't play in 2019, he never officially announced his retirement and remained a free agent. 

Gates last played for the Chargers during the 2018 season after Hunter Henry suffered a torn ACL during OTAs in May. The veteran signed a one-year deal exactly one week before Los Angeles' first game. 

He carved out one of the best careers for any pass-catcher in NFL history and ranks seventh all-time with 116 touchdown receptions, 17th in total receptions (955) and 29th in receiving yards (11,841). He played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls (2004-11) and was a first-team All-Pro in three straight seasons (2004-06). 

Prior to the 2015 season, which was his last under his previous contract with the Chargers, Gates told Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune he couldn't make a definitive statement about when he would walk away from the game:

"As you get older, people say things. They make speculations about where you're going, about how much you have in the tank. To me, it's all about how I feel as a person, how my body feels physically and mentally. As of right now, I feel great physically. I'm in a great place mentally. So, we'll see how it goes. I have no expectations for how long I'll play or if this is my last year."

With the Chargers handing Henry the keys to the starting job at tight end, Gates took on a more complementary role in the offense. He fared well with 333 receiving yards and two touchdowns playing behind Virgil Green due to Henry's injury in 2018. 

Even though Gates didn't go out at the top of his game, there's no denying his place in NFL history among tight ends. His numbers make him a near-lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible for election in five years.