Following through on an ultimatum delivered to Antonio Gates last week, the San Diego Chargers announced Saturday afternoon that they will place the star tight end on the NFL's "roster exempt" list and that he will not play in the regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 11.
The team had informed Gates and agent Andre Colona that the Pro Bowl tight end would be placed on the exempt list if he did not sign the one-year exclusive rights free-agent offer of $380,000 or a long-term deal by Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The deadline passed with no deal and without Gates reporting to the team.
But Colona told John Seibel and Steve Bunin on their GameNight on ESPN Radio show Gates will report Sunday. Colona added his interpretation of the rules is that commissioner Paul Tagliabue can remove the exemption if requested by the Chargers, permitting Gates to play in the season opener.
While that could be true, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith called moving Gates to the roster exempt list "irrevocable" in the team's mind.
In a statement Saturday, the Chargers said: "Tight end Antonio Gates did not report and sign a contract by 12:30 p.m. today. The Chargers and Gates' agent, Andre Colona, negotiated throughout the morning but could not reach an agreement on year or compensation. At this point, Gates does not feel comfortable in signing the team's tender offer and going back to work."
The statement said that, as a result of his failure to reach an agreement, Gates "will not play in the first three games following the date he signs with the team." It also noted: "The Chargers are disappointed Gates will miss the season opener versus Dallas but remain hopeful of reaching an agreement soon."
That means that, at this point, Gates will miss the final two preseason games and the first regular-season contest. Should the third-year veteran not report by Thursday, he will miss two regular-season games. He must report by Aug. 31, under conditions of the exempt list, to avoid missing the first three games of the regular season.
"Obviously if Gates turns out missing the first game because of this, that's disappointing for everyone in this locker room because he is big part of our team and we don't want to see that happen," quarterback Drew Brees said after practice Saturday but before the deadline passed.
"He's someone we need on the team, but business is business," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who missed most of his rookie training camp in 2001 in a contract holdout.
Tomlinson said he spoke with Gates by phone Friday night.
"He was hoping things got worked out. Hopefully things still get worked out," Tomlinson said. "We obviously need him, but it is a business first and if Antonio is not here we are going to have to hold the fort down until he gets back."
Gates, 25, enjoyed a breakout season in 2005, with 81 receptions for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns. The 13 touchdown catches established a new record for tight ends. As a former undrafted free agent, Gates has played for the minimum base salaries in his first two seasons in the NFL, and San Diego tendered him a minimum offer for 2005, while acknowledging he had outplayed his contract and wanted to negotiate a long-term deal.
Months of negotiations, though, have failed to produce a contract and it is not certain how or when the impasse will be resolved. Colona said earlier this week that the team's actions in threatening to place his client on the exempt list would not alter his or Gates' stance at the bargaining table.
Smith said this week that the Chargers wanted to continue the contract talks but issued the ultimatum because the team needed to know its situation at tight end and whether Gates would be a part of the opening day roster.
"We're the football team," Smith said. "We decide who gets a contract, how much they get and for how long."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.