Gates, the perennial Pro Bowler, and the Chargers will soon be doing business. And with business being good for tight ends -- see Winslow's deal -- Gates will soon become a very rich man.
But Gates wasn't talking about holding up the Chargers. He said it's even more important to remain in San Diego than worry about matching anyone else's contract.
That statement will certainly bring a smile to Gates' agent Tom Condon -- he's never known for giving anyone, especially the Chargers, a discount.
But Gates swears there's no denying his love for the Chargers and his teammates.
"I've been a San Diegan for six years now, and I no longer bleed red," Gates said. "I bleed powder blue. So any time you talk about something that's sincere to your heart, any time your soul gets involved in a situation, you know you don't want to leave it. I want to be here. I want to be a part of this. That's my stance."
TE Antonio Gates
The Chargers, with the drama of what to do with future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson behind them, now look to take care of other stars.
Quarterback Philip Rivers expires after the 2009 season and Gates' comes due the following year.
"You hear things," Gates said, "but nothing's for certain."
The last time these parties locked horns it was contentious. Gates had to sit out the 2005 opener -- a Chargers loss; they missed the playoffs by one game that year -- on his way to getting his six-year, $22 million deal.
"It was complicated then, and hopefully it won't be in the future," Gates said.
Gates had since switched agents, but the one representing him now -- Condon -- is among the toughest in the business. Condon was able to reach common ground with the Chargers with another one of his clients, Tomlinson, but has butted heads with the organization in the past when representing Drew Brees and Marty Schottenheimer.
"That's about as tough as it gets, when you start talking about contracts," Gates said of negotiating that first deal. "I've been through it before, although it was a different situation.
"I do know that what we're trying to accomplish as a team has nothing to do with this. This is my personal situation, which is completely separate from the team. L.T. just went through it, and I'm sure Philip and I will go through some things. The player and the team have to find a happy medium and a good situation for both."
Gates is smart enough to know that negotiating is as big as part of the NFL has catching passes.
"I know there is a flip side," Gates said. "I know this is a business situation. It's hard for me because I don't treat it like a business. I view this team as a family. You try to put in what you want out of it. It's like anything in life. When you put your heart into something, that's what you expect in return."
--The Chargers remain committed to exploring the possibility of building a stadium in Chula Vista, a suburb about 15 miles south of San Diego. It's currently the only site in San Diego County the team is considering.
--C Nick Hardwick was cursing his surgically repaired foot at this time last year, when he had to skip team offseason workouts. Now he is participating and couldn't be happier.
"The offseason program is huge," he said. "You obviously develop as a team together so when guys aren't there that are going to be a part of things, it takes its toll. I'm glad I get to be a part of it all this year."
--The San Diego City Attorney has yet to decide whether to charge DT Jamal Williams, who was arrested in February for drunken driving.
--WR Chris Chambers is getting entrenched in the San Diego area with his work with various community programs. Among those is the "Big Brothers, Big Sisters" of San Diego County; he shot a promotional commercial for the group.
"There are so many kids that have been on their waiting list for years," he said. "Hopefully the commercial will help generate interest in the program and get some guys to step up and mentor these kids that some encouragement in their lives."
--John Spanos, the team's director of college scouting, is getting anxious for the upcoming draft; the Chargers have the 16th overall selection.
"It's exciting," he said. "You're already starting to put scenarios in your head for how the draft may play out. Even though you may have been doing that for a while, this is the point where it becomes a little more tangible."
--It's expected preliminary long-term contract talks will begin soon with QB Philip Rivers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm glad to hear those comments. Antonio is a great competitor and a player of great character." -- GM A.J. Smith on Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates expressing his desire to sign a long-term deal with the Chargers.
LB Kevin Burnett
Otto Greule Jr./Getty
No free agents are expected to meet with the Chargers until after the draft.
The team continues, it seems, to waffle between going for a running back with its first-round pick to start grooming as LaDainian Tomlinson's eventual replacement or filling another hole.
There are also needs on the defensive side, after losing starting end Igor Olshansky to free agency and questions about the durability of veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams.
TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
While the Chargers are seldom players early in free agency with any significant signings, keep an eye on them once the draft concludes.
General manager A. J. Smith is keen at filling needs not addressed through the draft by picking up veteran players let go or those who may have yet to sign as training camp draws near.
Last year he picked up backup linebacker Derek Smith and center Jeremy Newberry -- both players were starters in the early part of the season because of injuries.
So just because the Chargers have yet to make a splash in the free-agent pool, that doesn't mean they won't dip their toe in the water again at some point after the draft.
1. Strong safety: The Chargers' pass defense was horrible last year. It wasn't all Clinton Hart's fault but it's obvious the team seeks a hard-hitter on the back end to strike some fear into receivers crossing the middle. That pass defense should improve with the return of a healthy Shawne Merriman, but an upgrade at strong safety would help as well.
2. Right guard: The departure of Mike Goff as a free agent and the lack of depth behind him is a concern. If the Chargers can fill the right guard spot, there might not as much urgency to try and replace right tackle Jeromey Clary as well. The Chargers must shore the right side of the line, but the biggest void is at tackle.
3. Defensive end: With Igor Olshansky being allowed to flee in free agency, the Chargers aren't certain they have a bona fide started on the roster. The team could fill this need through the draft.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OLB Marques Harris was used on passing downs and has shown some promise, but he won't be re-signed.
--C Jeremy Newberry was a valuable backup when Nick Hardwick was injured early last season, but the Chargers won't re-sign him.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Malcom Floyd (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has a good connection with QB Philip Rivers and can be a solid red-zone target. Injuries slowed him some down the stretch last year.
--CB Cletis Gordon (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) surprised some by getting that tender as some of his shortcomings were exposed when playing extended stretches last year. But he is a solid special teams player and has potential as a returner.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--OG Kynan Forney: Potential UFA; $4.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Cowboys; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2M SB.
--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--OG Mike Goff: UFA Chiefs; $3.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--DE Igor Olshansky: UFA Cowboys; $18M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--LB Anthony Waters (released).