Chargers bring back franchise legend Antonio Gates to bolster depleted tight end group

Antonio Gates is back where he belongs. 

On Sunday, the Chargers signed Gates, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, to bolster what is a very depleted tight end group. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that it's a one-year deal for Gates, who rejoins the team he's been with since his career began in 2003. The Chargers confirmed the signing shortly after.

If that's not a feel-good tweet, I'm not sure what is:

Gates, 38, isn't the tight end he used to be, but he can help a team that lost its starting tight end, Hunter Henry, to a torn ACL in May. There's still a slight chance that Henry, who landed on the PUP list, can return later in the season, but the Chargers can't bank on Henry making a miraculous recovery. After roster cuts were made on Saturday, the only two active tight ends on their roster were Virgil Green and Sean Culkin. So don't be surprised if Gates immediately becomes the team's top pass-catching tight end.

In his Hall of Fame worthy career, Gates has caught 927 passes for 11,508 yards and 114 touchdowns. Those aren't just great numbers for a tight end. Those are all-time great numbers even among receivers. Gates ranks 20th all-time in receptions, 30th all-time in receiving yards, and sixth all-time in touchdown catches. Just don't expect him to perform like a Hall of Famer in his 16th NFL season. Over the past two seasons, he's caught 83 passes for 864 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In a perfect world, he'd be a TE2. But the Chargers don't ever live in a perfect world. Henry's likely down for the season or at the very least, most of the season. Green is more of a blocking tight end than a pass catcher while Culkin has played in one game during his career. That's why Gates, who is more than comfortable within the Chargers' offense catching passes from Philip Rivers, is probably going to emerge as the team's top pass-catching tight end.

The reunion has been expected ever since Henry went down. It just took them a little while to make it happen. The timing is perfect for Gates, who didn't have to partake in training camp or the preseason. 

The Chargers begin their season against the Chiefs next weekend.

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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