The 28-year-old tight end spent time on San Diego’s practice squad and active roster in 2015, but never played a snap in a game because he was buried on the depth chart behind Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, John Phillips and David Johnson.
But with Green, Phillips and Johnson no longer on San Diego’s roster, things could change for McGrath in 2016.
McGrath was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Seattle Seahawks in 2012 and appeared in two games with them that season. He was one of the final roster cuts in 2013 and claimed on waivers by the Kansas City Chiefs.
McGrath appeared in all 16 games for Kansas City (nine starts) and caught 26 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns.
McGrath retired in April 2014 and spent the season attending school and working on an art degree. The Chiefs placed McGrath on the reserve/did not report list, and later released him.
An art major at Henderson State in Arkansas, McGrath said he spent the time away from football working on his masters portfolio once he decided to pursue a graduate degree in art.
McGrath returned to football last year, going to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts. McGrath was released during final roster cuts, but spent time on the team’s practice squad.
At 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds, McGrath has good hands and can play as an in-line tight end or a guy who can line up in the slot.
“He showed a lot of promise in practice,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “With Kansas City, he had a really nice year a couple years ago. He’s got good size. He’ll block. He’s got really good hands, and he practiced and looked really good in practice with us. So I’m excited to see if he can kind of build on that for us this year. We’ll find out in training camp.”
McGrath will be competing for a roster spot with two other developmental tight ends already on San Diego’s 90-man roster in Asante Cleveland and Tim Semisch. And there’s a good chance the Chargers will look to add more tight end depth through the draft.
“It’s a position coming from the colleges that’s getting harder and harder to find, because there aren’t a lot of them,” Telesco said about the tight end position. “And as we saw even this year in free agency, there weren’t that many tight ends. A lot of them re-signed with their own teams. So the pool available wasn’t that big.”
The Chargers brought in blocking tight end James Hanna for a visit and offered him a contract, but he re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys in free agency. San Diego eventually landed former New York Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland on a one-year deal.
And while San Diego lost Green to the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency, bringing back a talented player like Gates was important for Telesco.
“I know maybe people thought it was foregone conclusion that Gates comes back,” said Telesco about Gates, who turns 36 years old in June. “But you never know sometimes. He said he wanted to be back. We wanted him back. But sometimes things don’t work out.
“We’re really excited that he’ll be back. And with him, last year I don’t see a player on the decline. I still see the stop-and-start quicks, the hands and the ball skills. … His game was never predicated on just flat running by people. His game is predicated on setting people up. He’s a rare route runner as far as feel. And when he gets out of his break, he still has that burst and explosion. And if you still have that, you can keep playing for a long time.”
Along with that skill set, Telesco said Gates still has the desire to practice, and is constantly working on his craft throughout the year.
“It’s great for our young guys to see how a Hall of Famer continues to work like that,” Telesco said. “He never takes a period off. He’s always doing something.”