The Los Angeles Chargers informed tight end Antonio Gates this offseason that they do not plan to re-sign him, the team confirmed Friday.
Gates said at the end of last season that he wanted to continue his career in 2018.
The 15-year veteran had a reduced role with the Chargers in 2017. He played 478 snaps, finishing with 30 catches for 316 receiving yards and three touchdowns; only his rookie season produced more meager numbers.
"We put a lot of thought into where this roster needs to go, fully knowing that Antonio stepped in last year when we really needed him and played really well," general manager Tom Telesco said Friday. "That's why these decisions are tough. But as we're looking at how our roster needs to be constructed, it's just the way it had to go."
Tight end Hunter Henry has emerged as a top target for quarterback Philip Rivers over his first two seasons, catching 81 passes for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Chargers also signed tight end Virgil Green as a free agent from Denver last month.
Telesco indicated Henry's emergence played a large role in the decision not to re-sign Gates.
"As we were looking at it, we really feel that this is Hunter Henry's time, and we need to get him even a little more involved than we had in the past," Telesco said.
Gates, 37, is the career leader in receiving touchdowns by an NFL tight end (114). He and Rivers have connected on 87 touchdowns during their time together with the Chargers, the most in league history for a quarterback-tight end tandem.
Rivers, who joined the team the year after Gates arrived, said two weeks ago that they had communicated through text messages about Gates' future.
"Shoot, I've been not only locker mates but spent a lot of time with Antonio over the last 14 seasons," Rivers said. "Great player. Great person. We all know our friendship. You'd love for him to get one more shot to be with us and go make a run at it. ... If it were not to work out, and if he were to decide to hang it up, who knows? He's had a heck of a run. He has nothing left to prove, that's for sure."
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, Gates signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2003. He is the Chargers' franchise leader in receptions (927), receiving yards (11,508) and touchdown catches, surpassing the output of Hall of Famers Lance Alworth, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow.
Gates posted 100-plus receiving yards in 21 games throughout his career, making him one of just seven tight ends in NFL history with 20-plus games of at least 100 receiving yards.
"Antonio is not only one of the best Chargers of all time but he's one of the best football players in the history of our game," Telesco said. "He has meant so much to this organization, both on the field and off the field, in San Diego and in Los Angeles. We can't say enough about the type of person and player he is. These decisions are really difficult."
Information from ESPN's Adam Schefter and Eric D. Williams and The Associated Press was used in this report.