Longtime Chargers Tight End Antonio Gates Announces Retirement from NFL

Longtime Chargers tight end Antonio Gates formally announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday.
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After a season out of football, longtime Chargers tight end Antonio Gates formally announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday.

"After 16 seasons in the NFL, 16 seasons as a Chargers, eight Pro Bowl appearances, and many records broken, I find it hard to officially put this statement out and retire from the game of football," Gates said in a statement released by the Chargers. "I never dreamed that I would play this game of football so long or how fortunate I would be to play it with just one organization. I want to thank the Chargers organization, Dean Spanos and the Spanos family, and the National Football League for the opportunity to live out a dream and play the game I love. And to the fans in San Diego, Los Angeles, across the country and around the world, thank you for your unwavering support all these years. There would be no NFL without you."

Despite playing basketball rather than football in college, Gates entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2003. After working his way up the depth chart as a rookie, Gates emerged as one of the premier tight ends in the league in 2004, hauling in 81 passes for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns and earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Gates went on to make the All-Pro team each of the following two seasons and made eight consecutive Pro Bowls.

Gates also played a major role in several of the best Chargers teams of the 21st century. He led the team in receiving each season from 2004 through 2007, a stretch that included three playoff appearances and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. Gates continued to produce over subsequent seasons but never again captured the dominance of that run.

Though Gates appeared to be done with football following the 2017 season, a torn ACL to tight end Hunter Henry resulted in the Chargers signing Gates for one last run. Though that season did little to pad his career statistics, he finished with 955 catches for 11,841 receiving yards, and 116 touchdowns, each a franchise record.

As Gates has not played since the conclusion of 2018, he will become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame following the 2023 season. Among tight ends, Gates ranks No. 1 in touchdown receptions and behind only the Dallas Cowboys' Jason Witten and Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in receiving yards and receptions.

-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH