In need of help, the Chargers reached out Sunday to a pretty decent option: the most prolific scoring tight end in NFL history.
Yes, Antonio Gates is 38 and no longer capable of performing at the same level that made him a Hall of Fame shoo-in.
But he still caught 10 passes in the Chargers’ final two games last season and remains an attention-drawing red-zone threat.
“I guess we’re very lucky,” general manager Tom Telesco said. “He knows the offense. He knows the quarterback. He knows our head coach and this organization very well.”
Gates agreed to terms on a one-year contract that will give him a 16th season with the Chargers, a development that had been brewing for months.
Telesco said he wasn’t sure whether Gates would be available to practice Monday or play in the opener Sunday against Kansas City.
But he made it clear that the Chargers are happy both possibilities exist.
“I’m grateful that he wants to come back and play with us,” Telesco said. “But I’m also grateful — and this is more important than the first part — he’s coming back for all the right reasons.
“He’s not coming back to put up more statistics. He’s not coming back to prove anything to anybody because he doesn’t have to do that. He’s coming back because he loves his teammates and I think he sees something special in this football team and he wants to be a part of it.”
Virgil Green, who built his career with Denver on his ability to block, would have been the only Chargers tight end with NFL receptions if Gates had not signed. Sean Culkin, the only other tight end on the roster, does not have any NFL catches.
Gates is the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 114. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, he also is the franchise leader in catches (927) and receiving yards (11,508).
When Gates became a free agent in March, the Chargers had no plans to re-sign him.
The situation changed two months later when Hunter Henry tore a right anterior cruciate ligament. Henry is on the physically unable to perform list, the Chargers hoping he can play later this season.
When Henry suffered a lacerated kidney late in 2017, Gates started the final two weeks and caught 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. That surge concluded a season in which he had 30 catches for a career-low 316 yards and three scores.
Also Sunday, the Chargers cut quarterback Cardale Jones and linebacker Hayes Pullard. Telesco said Jones would be added to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Those moves opened space for linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee and nose tackle T.Y. McGill, who were claimed.
“He’s smart, fast and pretty physical,” Telesco said of Ellerbee, an undrafted rookie who had been with Atlanta.
“He had a really good preseason.”
McGill, entering his fourth year, has played for Cleveland and Indianapolis. The Chargers need help along the defensive front because Corey Liuget is suspended for the first four games and rookie Justin Jones has been slowed by an ankle injury.
“T.Y. is very quick and explosive, a high-motor defensive tackle,” Telesco said. “I think he can help us right now in the interior.”
In finalizing their initial 53-man roster over the weekend, the Chargers were forced to place wide receiver Artavis Scott on injured reserve, a move that cost them a player who would have contributed on offense and special teams.
Scott hurt his ankle on the kick return in the preseason finale Thursday against San Francisco.
“That was difficult to see,” Telesco said. “I know he was really disappointed, as we were, too. This will end up being a redshirt year for him. We’ll get him back and he can compete for time next year.”