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Chargers, Gates agree on six-year deal

SAN DIEGO (Aug. 23, 2005) -- The Antonio Gates saga took another surprising turn when the All-Pro tight end agreed to a six-year contract with the San Diego Chargers.

Despite getting the long-term deal he wanted, Gates still has to sit out the final two preseason games and the season-opener against Dallas on Sept. 11, his punishment for missing a team-imposed deadline for reporting to training camp.

On Aug. 21, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said negotiations, which began 10 months ago, were "dead in the water."

Gates wanted to be paid among the league's top tight ends following his breakout year in 2004, when, in his second season, he helped the Chargers win the AFC West at 12-4 and return to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. With defenses struggling to cover the former college basketball star, Gates caught 13 touchdown passes -- a league record for tight ends -- and led the Chargers with 81 catches for 964 yards, nearly 20 percent of their offense.

The Chargers agreed Gates deserved to be paid more than the $380,000 minimum they were obligated to give him as a third-year pro, but because he had only the one standout year, they balked at paying him equal to Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has played in six Pro Bowls. Gates made his Pro Bowl debut last season.

Gates held out of training camp as the two sides sparred over contract length and money. In an attempt to break the impasse, the Chargers sent his agent a letter several days ago ordering the player to be in camp by Aug. 20 or be placed on the Roster Exempt List as soon as he signed, triggering an automatic three-game suspension.

After Gates missed the deadline, his agent, Andre Colona, was quoted in reports that commissioner Paul Tagliabue had the right to shorten a suspension. A league spokesman quickly denied that was possible.

Gates reported Aug. 21 and signed the $380,000, one-year contract he had been tendered as an exclusive-rights free agent.

On Aug. 22, Gates said he missed the deadline because he couldn't get a flight from Detroit to San Diego. He said he called the team and explained the situation on Aug. 20, but the team said it didn't hear from Gates until just before kickoff of its preseason game Aug. 21.

Gates also contradicted his agent, saying he would be willing to continue to negotiate during the season.

AP NEWS
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