Chargers all-time great Antonio Gates calls it a career, officially retires after 16 NFL seasons

One of the greatest tight ends in NFL history and one of the best players to have ever played for the Chargers has officially called it a career. On Tuesday, all-time great tight end Antonio Gates officially announced his retirement from football after 16 NFL seasons.

Gates retires as the all-time leader in touchdown catches by a tight end with 116 -- five more than recent Hall of Fame inductee Tony Gonzalez. Among all players, he ranks seventh all-time in touchdown receptions17th all-time in receptions (955), and 29th all-time in receiving yards (11,841). Among tight ends, only Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten caught more passes and racked up more receiving yards. Simply put, he's one of the best tight ends to have ever played the game.

Here's his official announcement in its entirety:

After 16 seasons in the NFL, 16 seasons as a Charger, 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.

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, the National Football League, Dean Spanos and the Spanos family for the opportunity to live out a dream and play the game I love.

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.

While today I am officially retiring as a Charger, I am grateful that I will still be lending my services to the Chargers organization — just now in a completely different capacity through the team's community engagement initiatives and public facing events.

Thank you to everyone that helped me create memories that will last a lifetime, both on and off the field. Thank you to my agent, Tom Condon, and management team, Denise White and EAG, for helping me navigate this sport over the last 16 years. Thank you to my family for your love and support through the years, and a special thank you to my kids — I am hopeful to have left a legacy that you can be proud of, not just as a football player but also as a father.

I'm looking forward to beginning the next chapter of my career and am grateful for the opportunity to be back around the team and our fans. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this remarkable journey with me. I can't wait to see what's next. 

Gates entered the league in 2003 as an undrafted free agent after a successful college basketball career at Kent State. He caught on with the Chargers pretty quickly. In his second NFL season, he exploded for 81 catches, 964 yards, and 13 touchdowns. In his third NFL season, he racked up 89 catches, 1,101 yards, and 10 touchdowns. 

Over the course of the next decade, he served as a touchdown machine. 

From 2004-14, Gates averaged roughly 70 catches, 875 yards, and nine touchdowns per season. For the sake of comparison, consider that Rob Gronkowski, largely considered the most dominant tight end in NFL history, averaged 58 catches, 873 yards, and nine touchdowns per season in his career. Obviously, Gates' longevity and ability to stay healthy -- something Gronk's career lacked -- played a huge role in that. Gates appeared in 236 of 256 possible games in his career.

Toward the end of his career, Gates' role with the Chargers was downsized, but he still managed to keep scoring touchdowns, generating 17 scores from 2015-18. He didn't play in 2019 even though there appeared to be some interest between the team and player. 

Gates finished his career with eight trips to the Pro Bowl and three first team All-Pro selections. 

Up next? The Hall of Fame.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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