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Antonio Gates proves to be a priority

When I talked to San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith earlier Wednesday, he gave no indication that he was about to make Antonio Gates the highest paid tight end in the NFL.

The talk was dominated by the expected long holdouts by Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill.

However, Smith did leave some hints.

“I have a list of priorities,” Smith said. “I’m not going to say what the priority is, but people can speculate.”

There’s no further speculation needed. It's crystal clear that Gates was the priority. ESPN.com is reporting Gates signed a five-year contract extension. The new deal is worth an average of $7.235 million per season, with $20.4 million in guarantees.

The Chargers and Gates have been expected to finalize a deal for the past two years. Smith has long had a reputation of taking care of his own players. The past two summers, he gave contract extensions to defensive lineman Luis Castillo and quarterback Philip Rivers.

However, Smith has been in the news lately for the deals he hasn’t been making. Both Jackson and McNeill are restricted free agents, who did not sign their tenders. They are both expected to hold out for the first 10 games of the season.

Wednesday, Smith said the Chargers were choosing to wait out the uncertainty of the CBA before giving long-term deals. But he did mention the priority list. It is clear Gates was the first choice.

Perhaps McNeill and Jackson are not on the list. Still, Smith did say this earlier Wednesday.

“Everything would be beautiful if I gave every player who wants a new deal a new, nice, big contract,” Smith said.”Everybody would be happy and everybody would say nice things about me. But we know that wouldn’t work. (Teams) just can’t operate that way.”

So what does Gates’ deal mean to Jackson’s and McNeill’s future?

Nothing for the short term. But I do think Gates’ extension was a message to both McNeill and Jackson. Gates never complained about his contract and he never threatened to hold out.

The timing of this deal may be Smith’s subtle way of showing both Jackson and McNeill that everyone will get their turn, but it is easier to get a deal if you play along with the program.

Gates did and he got paid. McNeill and Jackson are apparent planning to stay away and they aren’t real close to getting a new pay day.

Do the math.