Chargers' Gates signs; agent's quotes cause confusion

SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates signed a $380,000, one-year contract Sunday night to end his holdout with the San Diego Chargers.

The record-setting tight end still appears headed for a three-game suspension, including the season opener against Dallas, for missing a team-imposed deadline to report to camp.

In a new twist to the Chargers' most-pressing saga, general manager A.J. Smith seemed bewildered by reports quoting Gates' agent, Andre Colona, as saying that commissioner Paul Tagliabue can shorten the suspension if requested by the Chargers.

"If there's some development here that you all are reporting, and there is a hearing and the commissioner says he can come back to the San Diego Chargers for Dallas, I think that would be unbelievable," Smith said during a news conference at halftime of an exhibition game against St. Louis.

"That's exciting. But you guys are way ahead of me on that. But we'll explore, weigh the options, and go from there."

An NFL spokesman, though, said there doesn't appear to be any way to reverse the process set in motion by the Chargers in an attempt to break an impasse in negotiations for a multiyear deal for Gates, who was named All-Pro in just his second season.

The team sent Colona a letter more than a week ago ordering Gates to be in camp and sign a contract by Saturday, or be put on the Roster Exempt List once he does sign, triggering a three-game suspension.

"Once the letter is sent, the player is out," spokesman Steve Alic said Sunday.

If Gates had met the deadline, he'd be OK, Alic said.

Now, "he'll be able to suit up for Week 2 of the regular season," Alic said.

Smith said the Chargers checked with the NFL management council before sending the letter and were told "100 percent that you can't get your player back. That's pretty strong. It affects us, too, now. Not only is Antonio out of the game, but the Chargers are out of the tight end in the game. But we understood that when the letter was delivered."

Said Alic: "I've spoken to the management council today just to double-check what I know, and that is the case, 100 percent. I'm not aware of any type of appeal process."

Chargers receiver Keenan McCardell, a member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee, also said he was unaware of any appeals process.

Asked if he regretted sending the letter, Smith said: "Oh no. Absolutely not. Oh, no, no, no, no. We knew if sent the letter, 100 percent we're out the player. We need to get this going. We're not getting anywhere."

Gates had a breakout year in 2004, helping the Chargers go 12-4 and reach the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. Gates caught 13 touchdown passes -- a league record for tight ends -- and led the Chargers with 81 catches for 964 yards.

As an exclusive-rights free agent, Gates was tendered a one-year contract for $380,000, the minimum for a third-year player. That Chargers say Gates deserves to be paid more, but can't agree with Colona on the number of years or dollar amount of a long-term deal.

Smith said he concurred with Colona that "negotiations are dead in the water. We just can't seem to get it going. We've been at this thing for 10 months. We'll just hopefully keep banging away at it. Andre said Antonio will sign the tender and play for $380,000, then go into the restricted free-agent market. So we pretty much have established that."

Next offseason, Gates can receive offers from other clubs. The Chargers would have the right to match any offer.

Colona reportedly said he won't negotiate after the Dallas game.

"It looks like we've got a window now, from when the tender is signed, until Dallas," Smith said.