Chargers threaten to suspend Gates if holdout continues

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers told Antonio Gates
Thursday that he will be suspended for three games, including the
season opener against Dallas, if he doesn't end his holdout by
Saturday afternoon.

In an attempt to break an impasse in negotiations for a
multiyear deal, the Chargers sent Gates' agent, Andre Colona, a
letter last Friday informing him of the ultimatum. If Gates isn't
at camp by 12:30 p.m. Saturday, he will be suspended for the
Chargers' final two exhibition games and the Sept. 11 home game
against Dallas.

In order to avoid a suspension, the team told the All-Pro tight
end that he will need to either sign a new multiyear deal or the
$380,000, one-year contract he was tendered as an exclusive-rights
free agent.

The two sides have been negotiating for a long-term deal since
the middle of last season.

"We just can't agree on money and years," general manager A.J.
Smith said Thursday. "We want to know where we're going."

Smith said the team is still open to negotiate, but it also
needs to know if Gates is going to be part of the team."

Colona has not returned repeated calls seeking comment.

In just his second season, Gates had 13 touchdown catches to set
the NFL single-season record for tight ends. He led the team with
81 catches for 964 yards.

"My philosophy is to pay our own players," Smith said. "We
stepped out of the box midway through last season. We didn't want
him to play for $380,000. We recognized his ability, but we didn't
get anywhere. That's fine. Both parties have to agree.
Unfortunately, we can't seem to get it going. Hopefully we will.
Now, we all know exactly what we're up against."

If Gates' holdout lingers another week, he would then be
suspended for the final exhibition game and two regular-season
games. Once a suspension begins, it's irrevocable, Smith said.

"It's disappointing, but it's business," Smith said.

Smith refused to discuss specifics, but did say the team won't
give Gates a deal equal to that of Kansas City tight end Tony

"That's the position we've taken on that, and we're very
comfortable with that," Smith said. "Gonzalez is an eight-year
guy, a six-time Pro Bowler, a darn good player, where our guy is
caught in the system of exclusive-rights free agency, $380,000,
which we've stepped out of the box on. He's had one year of
production, he's a one year Pro Bowler, and he's an extremely
important part of our team.

"We're comfortable with what we're offering and we're willing
to go more. It's not acceptable on the other side," Smith said.

The Chargers know Gates will at least report for the final six
regular-season games in order to gain credit for this season and
become a restricted free agent. He can then receive offers from
other teams, which the Chargers would have the right to match.