SAN DIEGO — Star tight end Antonio Gates agreed Wednesday to a new two-year deal that will allow him to retire as a member of the San Diego Chargers, the team he joined as an undrafted rookie in 2003.
The deal, worth $12 million, with $6 million guaranteed, was announced hours before Gates was set to become an unrestricted free agent.
The 2016 season will be Gates’ 14th with the Chargers. He signed as a rookie free agent in 2003 after starring in basketball at Kent State. He turns 36 on June 18.
Gates was suspended for the first four games of 2015 after testing positive for a banned substance. Upon returning, he had 56 catches for 630 yards and five touchdowns.
Gates is the franchise leader with 844 catches, 10,644 yards receiving and 104 touchdown catches.
Also Wednesday, the Chargers re-signed veteran quarterback Kellen Clemens to a one-year contract to back up Philip Rivers; added wide receiver-returner Travis Benjamin from the Cleveland Browns; nose tackle Brandon Mebane from Seattle; and free safety Dwight Lowery from Indianapolis. Earlier in the week, they retained right tackle Joe Barksdale with a four-year deal.
While Gates certainly has Hall of Fame credentials, his squeaky-clean image took a hit last year when he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
Gates declined to say what he tested positive for, saying only that his testosterone levels were high. He said a big part of his routine is taking naturopathic medicine, "just taking certain things for my cleansing, my kidney, liver, making sure my sugar level is right." Gates took responsibility and said he felt he let his teammates down.
He also got into a verbal tiff with Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, a former divisional rival with the Denver Broncos.
Sharpe said he thought Gates’ suspension "calls into question everything that" the tight end has ever accomplished. Sharpe said Gates "cheated himself, and he cheated the game."
Gates later said Sharpe’s comments gave him motivation.
Benjamin got a four-year deal. He’s coming off a career-best season in which he had 1,302 all-purpose yards, including single-season bests with 68 receptions, 966 yards receiving and five touchdown catches.
He is the older brother of Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin’s three punt return touchdowns tied for second-most in Browns history and his 12.6-yard punt return average over the 2012-15 seasons was the highest in the NFL. He set team records in Cleveland for the most punt return yards in a game and the longest punt return.
San Diego’s punt return unit struggled last season, gaining only 84 yards. San Diego signed Jacob Jones with great fanfare last off-season, only to see him return five punts for minus-4 yards. He was released after five games.
The Chargers are trying to rebound from a 4-12 season in which they went winless in the AFC West. They’re also trying to restore damaged relations with their fans after they tried to move to Los Angeles, and will ask voters in November to approve a new stadium.