Close the Gates?

Antonio Gates committed two turnovers in Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. His heir apparent, Ladarius Green, is on an unreal tear. Is it time to consider making Green the featured pass catcher and moving on without the 33-year-old Gates? Not so fast.

Usually when Antonio Gates is called a goat, it is an acronym (GOAT) for "Greatest of All Time." He was a different kind of goat on Sunday ... a scapegoat. He lost a fumble and allowed a Philip Rivers offering to be ripped from his hands, scuttling two scoring opportunities in a game the Chargers lost by a single score.

Meanwhile, Ladarius Green -- who is 10 years younger than Gates -- is in the midst of a breakout campaign. In the last three games, Green has nine catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He averages 22.1 yards per reception, nearly double Gates' average of 11.3. yards.

So why should the Chargers plan to go forward with Gates -- who will be 34 at the start of next season and has two years remaining on his contract ($5 million in 2014 and $5.9 in 2015)?

Head Coach Andy Reid
Gregory Bull-USA TODAY Sports
Firstly, Gates is still producing at a high level, Sunday's game notwithstanding. He is on pace to catch over 80 balls this season for the first time since 2005. He has 10 receptions for 20-plus yards and over 60 percent of his catches go for first downs.

Secondly, Gates' presence is a key reason for Green's success. Gates draws regular double-teams and is always targeted by opposing defenses on third downs. Gates was on the field for Green's touchdown against the Bengals. Both tight ends ran seam routes from opposite sides of the formation. It was an impossible cover for Cincinnati's Cover-2 defense, which allowed Green a wide-open score from 30 yards out.

Finally, there is still much Green can learn from Gates. While Green has elite speed and athleticism, Gates has always thrived using other skills. He finds soft spots in the defense; he uses his body to get position between his defender and his QB; and he's always aware of down, distance and game situation.

It is only natural that over the next couple seasons Green will see his playing time increase while Gates will become more of a situational player. But the Chargers would be wise to let Gates play out his contract in San Diego, not only for what he can do on the field, but to send a message about the "new" Chargers organization.

San Diego has a history of acrimonious departures with franchise faces. Recent examples include LaDainian Tomlinson, Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. It would be nice to see one of San Diego's stars finish out his Chargers career the right way. That would also send a good message to free agents thinking about joining the lightning bolts.

It is all well and good to be excited about what Green is doing on the field. And Bolts Backers have every right to blame Gates for Sunday's loss versus the Bengals, one that greatly hindered San Diego's playoff chances. But it is even more important to remember all the incredible things Gates has done for the Chargers, a lengthy list of accomplishments that should only continue to grow over the next couple of seasons.

How should SD transition to Green-er pastures? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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