Antonio Gates announced his retirement from football today after 16 seasons with the Chargers. From 2003 to 2018, Gates was the most-dominant tight end in the league, as he put up 11 seasons of seven or more touchdown receptions on his way to the tight end record with 116 total trips to the end zone.
Tony Gonzalez will go down in history as the greatest tight end of all time, but Gates was a touchdown machine and before the proliferation of PPR leagues, which made him a perennial fantasy stud right when fantasy football was gaining traction and boosting the NFL viewership higher than it ever had been. He helped revolutionize the position in real life and fantasy. His 21 multiple touchdown games ranks first for tight ends as he became Phillip Rivers favorite red zone target. Rivers threw 89 touchdowns to Gates in his career, which is the most by any QB-TE combo ever and second-most of any QB-receiving duo ever.
Gates’ tremendous success had everyone looking for the next ex-basketball playing tight end to take over the league. And with his and Gonzalez’s domination, the age of the offensive tight end seemed inevitable. Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski both came on the scene in 2010, when Gates caught ten touchdowns in an injury shortened season and Gonzalez was slowing down a bit in Atlanta. But the tight end boom never truly took off like many thought.
Finding the next Gates wasn’t that easy and even Graham and Gronk, who sit atop the single season records, didn’t have the staying power of Gates. At 6’4, 255 pounds, running route after route, blocking at the line and taking hits over the middle of the field, Gates was remarkably resilient and consistent. He’ll end his career with 955 receptions, 11,841 receiving yards, and 116 touchdowns.
His next stop will be Canton, Ohio.