Antonio Gates signs largest TE deal in NFL history: 5 years $36 million contract
The San Diego Chargers have given Antonio Gates the biggest contract in NFL history for a TE. Gates signed a five year $36 million contract, with $20.4 million of that total guaranteed. Presuming he collects all of his money it will be an average salary of $7.325 million per season.
Gates was seeking a long term contract extension and Chargers GM AJ Smith didn’t want a repeat of what happened the last time Gates was seeking a new deal. Back in 2005 he was unsatisfied with his contract demanding a raise; this led to him sitting out training camp to prove his point. He then received a three game suspension, which was the final two exhibition games and week 1 of the regular season.
The 30 year old Gates is a six time pro bowler and three time all pro tight end doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. He is coming off a career best season with 1157 receiving yards, making it the 2nd time he’s eclipsed 1000+ yards receiving. Something 90+% of all Tight Ends never accomplish in one season let alone two in an NFL career.
The season was so impressive that even as a tight end he still ranked 13th overall in the NFL for receiving yards; and lead San Diego in receiving.
Overall since his rookie season he’s been on of the most consistent tight ends ranking 2nd in receiving yards with 6223 and third in receptions with 479. In those year’s he’s had at least 8 TD per season, with two 10+ TD seasons.
At 6”4 260 lbs. he’s got the size and build required to be a good physical blocking tight end, which he definitely is. But, what makes him so special is with that size he can still be one of the most skilled big tight ends in the game. This has been demonstrated by the amazing catches he’s made in coverage, the ability to run isolation routes and haul in passes on plays there were not designed for him.
When he gets the ball in his hands he’s good got speed and even better athleticism. This allows him to make tons of moves getting by defenders adding plenty of extra yards onto plays. Often turning little nothing dump off plays into significant gains.
In addition, Gates has always been one of Rivers favorite targets in the end zone with his big body and ability to make plays. Always getting open on his own route or posting up like it’s a basketball play taking a lob pass winning jump balls.
The annual $7 million contract is a big raise from the $4.6 million he was making last season, which only ranked 11th in the NFL for tight end salaries. He is definitely worthy of the raise since he is arguably the best tight end not 11th best in the NFL.
If you don’t believe he’s the best overall than fine. But you can’t dispute he is in the top 3-4 with the likes of Dallas Clark, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis.
The only major concern I have with a long term extension of this nature is the age of Gates being 30, which means he will play into his mid 30’s through the duration of the contract. Someone who plays as physical as him could easily get injured, or play hurt and not at the same level.
But, considering he had his most receiving yards last season I don’t think it’s anything to be overly concerned about during the first few years of the deal; maybe in the final couple of years. Plus, tight ends seem to last longer than most players in the NFL often having prolonged careers into their mid to late 30’s.
Considering only $20.4 million is guaranteed it’s a good deal for the Chargers, because in order for him to earn the rest of the money (additional $16 million) he will need to play up to par. In the even the doesn’t they will only be paying out an absurd contract; since the average tight end makes between $2-$3 million and top tier tight ends $4-$5 million; Gates would fall into that category even if he doesn’t play great.
Now AJ Smith doesn’t have to fear Gates leaving anytime soon and can focus on signing other key restricted free agents Marcus McNeil, Vincent Jackson & Shawne Merriman.