Rivers endorsed the idea of re-signing Gates, who is a free agent after playing all 15 seasons of his record-setting career for the Chargers, but said the decision would be up to general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn.
“I would always be excited if he walked back in the door, obviously. Certainly, he would get my vote,” Rivers said Tuesday.
Gates would be a logical fit to help replace Henry, who is expected to miss the upcoming season because of a torn ACL he sustained in practice. Henry had emerged as a top target for Rivers over his first two seasons with 81 receptions for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns, contributing to the team’s decision not to bring back Gates.
Gates caught 87 of his 114 touchdown receptions from Rivers, the second-most by a quarterback-receiver combination in NFL history behind the 112 touchdown passes Peyton Manning threw to Marvin Harrison for Indianapolis. Gates has the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history to go along with his franchise-record 927 receptions and 11,508 yards receiving.
The absence of Henry leaves Virgil Green as the only tight end currently on the roster that has caught a pass in an NFL game. Behind Green, who signed with the Chargers as a free agent from Denver in April, are second-year players Sean Culkin and Braedon Bowman and rookies Cole Hunt and Ben Johnson.
“It will look different without Hunter in there, but thankfully we have another 10 practices or so, counting the mini-camp, to continue to shape the offense for who we’re going to be,” Rivers said.
Rivers had been in contact with Gates since Henry tore his ACL, declining to discuss the specifics of their conversations.
“If something were to happen down the road, he wouldn’t have wanted it to come that way with Hunter’s absence,” Rivers said.
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