The record-setting tight end still appears headed for a three-game suspension, including the opener against Dallas, for missing a team-imposed deadline to report to camp.
In a new twist to the Chargers' most pressing saga, General Manager A.J. Smith seemed bewildered by reports quoting Gates' agent, Andre Colona, as saying that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue could shorten the suspension if requested by the Chargers.
"If there's some development here that you all are reporting, and there is a hearing and the commissioner says he can come back to the San Diego Chargers for Dallas, I think that would be unbelievable," Smith said during a news conference at halftime of a 36-21 exhibition victory over the St. Louis Rams at Qualcomm Stadium.
"That's exciting. But you guys are way ahead of me on that. But we'll explore, weigh the options, and go from there."
An NFL spokesman, though, said there doesn't appear to be any way to reverse the process set in motion by the Chargers in an attempt to break an impasse in negotiations for a multiyear deal for Gates, who was named All-Pro in his second season.
The team sent Colona a letter more than a week ago ordering Gates to be in camp and sign a contract by Saturday, or be put on the Roster Exempt List once he does sign, triggering a three-game suspension.
"Once the letter is sent, the player is out," spokesman Steve Alic said Sunday.
If Gates had met the deadline, he'd be OK, Alic said.
Now, "he'll be able to suit up for week two of the regular season," Alic said.
Gates had a breakout year in 2004, helping the Chargers to a 12-4 record and a playoff berth for the first time in nine seasons. Gates caught 13 touchdown passes -- a league record for tight ends -- and led the team with 81 catches for 964 yards.
In Sunday's game, Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson scored on a 55-yard run -- his only carry of the game -- and his backup, Michael Turner, also had a 55-yard run, plus a two-yard touchdown run.
New York Giant quarterback Eli Manning will have more tests on the right elbow he injured Saturday in a 27-21 victory over Carolina.
Manning woke up Sunday with soreness in the elbow. The second-year quarterback had an MRI exam and is scheduled to be examined by team orthopedist Russell Warren today.
"Our situation is we want to wait until the complete exam is concluded," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We're very concerned. Any time a quarterback has soreness in his elbow there is concern. It's not like he woke up and was out there throwing and you were getting reports that there was nothing to it."
The Giants were already looking to make a deal for a veteran backup before Manning's injury. On Saturday, former Cleveland Brown quarterback Tim Couch visited Giants Stadium for an interview and workout, a Giants official confirmed.
Panther safety Colin Branch will sit out the season because of a knee injury suffered during Carolina's exhibition loss to the Giants.
General Manager Marty Hurney said it was too early to say how the Panthers will replace Branch, or if first-round draft pick Thomas Davis will return to safety after one week at linebacker. "We're still going over the film," Hurney said. "The players aren't even back yet, so we haven't even started those kinds of discussions yet."
All-Pro cornerback Ty Law practiced with the New York Jets for the first time since signing with the team on Aug. 8.
Law, who broke his foot in October and sat out the rest of the season for New England, had only one pass come his way during team drills, and that one ended up being tipped at the line.
"Maybe they wanted to ease me into it a little bit," Law said. "I appreciate that. I know it's going to come in due time. It was challenging enough just to try to stay close to the receiver being that I haven't played in any real action since October. So just to be in the vicinity, I feel good about that."