Encore for Gates starts with contract

San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates may be an exclusive right free agent but a deal has been in the works since the offseason began with the parties unable to come to terms. That deal will send Gates, entering his third year in the NFL, from star to superstar.

LaDainian Tomlinson is eager to see what Antonio Gates does for an encore.

Tomlinson, the team's Pro Bowl running back, speculates the best is yet to come for the Pro Bowl tight end.

"I think he has the kind of talent to take his game to another level," Tomlinson said.

Where that might lead is downright scary.

Gates, in his first year as a starter, set an NFL record for touchdown catches (13) at his position. Gates had a team-high 81 catches for 964 yards.

And many of those catches in his second pro year came at critical times, as Gates' 30 third-down receptions was the second highest in the NFL.

"It's amazing what he has done, but at the same time in his rookie year he showed that he had the potential of being a very, very good player in this league," Tomlinson said.

That potential gets a lift when factoring in Gates' work ethic. Although the team and Gates stalled over extending his contract this offseason, Gates was a regular at the facility for the team workouts.

Gates has been attentive and soaking up knowledge since arriving in San Diego in 2003.

"I watched what the good players do, the LaDainian Tomlinsons and others," said Gates, who played basketball, and not football, at Kent State. "They worked hard, did all the right things, and I applied it to my game and things happened for me from that point on."

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