Gates, Merriman remain unsigned
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Updated: July 29, 8:14 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates was a no-show when San Diego Chargers veterans reported for training camp Thursday, joining holdout rookie Shawne Merriman as the team's only unsigned players.

Gates, who went from being an undrafted rookie to All-Pro in just two seasons, has yet to sign a $380,000 contract the Chargers tendered him as an exclusive rights free agent during the offseason. Gates can't report until he signs either the tender or a long-term deal, which the team says it has been working on since last season.

Asked for a comment Thursday evening, coach Marty Schottenheimer said: "You know, it's all part of this business."

The Chargers, who reached the playoffs last year for the first time in nine seasons, have their first full-squad practice on Friday morning.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

But during an interview on Monday, he said talks with Gates' agent have been "ongoing since midseason" and that "communication's fantastic."

"Obviously we're trying to work out a contract with him," Smith said. "My philosophy -- pay our own people. I still believe that. There's a lot of other people I've got targeted right now we'll be talking with. It's something that's very important to me, I think, in building a football team. In saying that, both parties have to come together. We're working on it."

Gates couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

During a May minicamp, Gates said his agent has asked for "market value," which could mean something similar to the just more than $4 million a year Tony Gonzalez averages in his deal with Kansas City.

Gates had 13 touchdown catches last year to set the NFL single-season record for tight ends, breaking a mark shared by Mike Ditka, Wesley Walls, Todd Christensen and Jerry Smith. He was a big reason the Chargers went 12-4 and won the AFC West, as he led the team with 81 catches for 964 yards. He also came up big on third downs, with 358 yards and six touchdowns. He joined teammates Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson as Pro Bowlers.

Gates didn't play football in college. He was a star power forward at Kent State, helping take the Golden Flashes within one win of the Final Four in 2002.

Merriman missed the first four training camp practices, which were for rookies and selected veterans. He also skipped all offseason workouts, worried that he might get hurt before he signed a contract. An outside linebacker from Maryland, he was the 12th pick overall in April's draft.