Chargers' players have sympathy for Gates

LaDainian Tomlinson was taken fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers in 2001 and the disparity between his slotting and that of undrafted free agent Antonio Gates has been a gulf. But Gates has proven his worth and is looking for the right deal before reporting to camp.

The Chargers star running back held out of his rookie season looking for a fair deal. It wasn't until August 22, 2001 that he came to terms.

After a month-long holdout, Tomlinson signed a six-year, $38 million deal, including a $10.5 million signing bonus, the highest awarded to a rookie running back.

Compare that to the $380K that Antonio Gates made a year ago and the difference is diamonds to pebbles.

"It is hard on people that don't get drafted," Tomlinson said in regards to the money difference. "They are behind the eight ball with guys that are drafted and when it comes down to it you are looking for your fair deal.

"A lot of times guys do whatever it takes to get that fair deal. Antonio's situation is no different. He has to resort to another tactic."

The Chargers issued a statement regarding the progress of talks with Gates prior to the start of camp:

"The team initiated discussions with Gates in the middle of the '04 season and talks are progressing."

After producing a season where he led the team in receptions with 81 and scored an NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end with 13, Gates is looking to be paid like one of the top tight ends in the league.

The kicker here is Gates has played just two seasons in the league and 2004 was his first as a full-time starter.

He was tendered as an exclusive rights free agent but has not signed the deal, preferring to hold out in the hopes of gaining a long-term deal.

Both sides remain in discussion regarding the contract and exchanged proposals again on Friday.

Not surprisingly, the Chargers players were unanimous in their support of the All-Pro tight end.

"I am not surprised because I know the situation," said quarterback Drew Brees. "He has to do what he has to do and when he comes we will welcome him back with open arms."

"He has to do the best thing for him and his family," added Tomlinson.

That doesn't mean, however, that the offensive players couldn't use a dose of Antonio Gates on the field as camp begins.

"We would love to have Antonio here," Tomlinson admitted. "I am sure he will get here as soon as he can. It is a business and we all understand that."

The one thing going for Gates, as opposed to unsigned rookie Shawne Merriman, is his grasp of the playbook.

"Antonio knows the offense," said Tomlinson. "He worked out the whole offseason with us."

Provided he gets into camp before the season, Gates will be on the field making the plays that Charger fans are accustomed to.

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