Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Aug 2005

Gates Has Ultimatum to Arrive Saturday

Apparently the quickest way to get holdouts and malcontents into camp is through snail mail. The Eagles sent T.O. a letter last week outlining all his misdeeds. Now, the Chargers have informed TE Antonio Gates via the Postal Service that if he doesn't sign a contract by this Saturday, he'll be suspended at least through the season opener. As long as everybody's sending out letters, maybe someone in Denver should make sure Maurice Clarett gets one too.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 18 Aug 2005

20 comments, Last at 24 Aug 2005, 5:54pm by someone


by MDS (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 11:30am

This article does a pretty bad job of explaining what Gates' rights are here. I don't think a team can "suspend" him in the sense that he won't get paid. It's my understanding that as long as he signs the tender before the season starts, he's owed that money. Now, the team is of course allowed to deactivate any player it wants, but that's not the same thing as a suspension. Anyway, if the Chargers suspend Gates because they're mad at him, that's just stupid. He's too good a player to leave sitting on the bench just because he doesn't like your contract offer.

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 11:34am

Seems to me that management is trying to take both ends of the stick here. On one hand, they don't want to pay "Gonzales money" but on the other hand they "do not want to give the 25-year-old Gates a three-year deal, because that would make him eligible for free agency much sooner than they would like."

If he is as good as his first year indicates, it doesn't seem reasonable to tie him up for more than three years at substantially less than "Gonzales money."

by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 12:25pm

Someone should explain the concepts of Hubris and Nemesis to the Chargers Front Office.
Since they 'won' their battle with Phillip Rivers it seems that the only approach to contracts is confrontation. Sooner or later they will get one spectacularly wrong, and I hope for their sake it's not this one. Gates is far to good a player to lose because negotiation is for 'girlie-men'.

by Johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 1:56pm

Meanwhile my tickets get FEDEX to me. Then they post a note on my door saying I need to sign for it in person and pick it up at the FEDEX station. Give me snail mail anyday.

by geoff (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 4:32pm

MDS, I agree, and I would love some clarification from someplace. Here are my questions:

1. Can the Chargers just suspend Gates and not pay him because he didn't come to camp on time?

2. Is this what the Chargers did with Jason Ball?

3. One of the things that's often cited as leverage for the players in these holdout/unsigned situations is the idea that the player could end the holdout/sign the contract by week 10, and thus collect a year of credit towards his free agency. If the team can just suspend the player for one of those games, then the player is not on the active roster and the year of credit would not count, right?

by geoff (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 4:40pm

Trying to answer my own question #2, thanks Google:

Ball's dissatisfaction stems from three things: the team's refusal to sign him to a multiyear deal in February, after his original two-year contract expired; its selection of another center, Nick Hardwick, two months later in the NFL draft; and its decision to put Ball on the roster-exempt list once he does report.

Ball was put on that list last week, when the team informed him that he would be greeted with what ostensibly amounts to a three-week suspension without pay when he rejoins the club. During that time, he cannot participate in games or receive a salary.

Also, the link on my name makes it look pretty bad for anyone in their first 4 years of service to try and hold out of camp... so maybe Gates has no rights after all...

by geoff (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 4:50pm

ok, apologies for the triple post, because maybe this stuff doesn't interest you, but I'm fascinated with CBA/contractual minutiae like this.

Apparently a player with less than 4 seasons of accrued time can be placed on the roster exempt list for 3 games, based on whenever he finally reports (the player has to be informed by mail beforehand.) So if a young player wanted to accrue a year towards free agency, he would have to report no later than the 8th game of the season.

Of course, this might all be moot, since the last player placed on this list (Jason Ball) is currently out of football, as far as I can tell (sure, maybe his ankle is bad, but I wonder if there's some sort of blacklist stuff going on too...)

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 6:36pm

AJ Smith is playing with fire here ... and it scares the crap out of me. Gates is the key to the SD offense, just like Jamal Williams is the key to their defense. They may not be the highest profile guys (LT, Brees, Edwards) but I think that they're the guys that make everything work. Gates was a monster on third downs last year, and in the red zone. Check out the Chargers record in '02 and '03 after Williams got hurt, and it's not pretty.

That being said, the Chargers like Gates and want to keep him around, but I think that they're worried about giving him too much money when he's really only had one great season. I think that 5 years at $4 million a year is just about the perfect offer for him. It doesn't break the bank if he underperforms but it also makes him among the highest paid tight ends.

I just hope that he gets in to camp soon.

by Sean D. (not verified) :: Thu, 08/18/2005 - 7:00pm

I think the key here is that Gates has very little leverage here. The only thing he has going for him is that he is a key to the offense. But, basically he needs the Chargers more than they need him. Admittedly, the Chargers will suffer some without Gates in the lineup, but why get a bad deal when they know Gates will have to eventually sign whatever they want him to sign. Currently Gates is not under contract, so the Chargers can "suspend" him without pay indefinitely since they don't owe him money. If he signs the tender then the Chargers due owe him money, but he is obligated to make good on the contract. If he signs the long term deal, he will become an instant millionaire with a deal that he doesn't particulary like. Those are basically his options. You can take his side, and say he deserves the deal he wants, but he has the opportunity to be very rich, which is a lot better than what most undrafted free agents get.

by skippyx (not verified) :: Sat, 08/20/2005 - 2:24am

Lets be clear here. Gates is no victim in this. The Chargers want to make him a very rich man and he feels the need for greed.

There are only 4 letters for a 3rd year player with 105 career catches comparing themselves to Tony Gonzales. They start with ST..

Benson, Westbrook and Gates are all wrong. They want to be paid like free agents but they want the money before free agency. It is a give and take not a take and take.

One other note. Gates should have already lost 2005 as a service year since he missed August 8th. (See Westbrook situation). The last 8 games may mean nothing to him. It works for someone like Keenan McCardell who already has 4+ years of service.

by masocc (not verified) :: Sat, 08/20/2005 - 5:58am

skippyx, I think you're dead wrong here. In my opinion, Gates is doing EXACTLY what he should be doing to look out for his overall welfare. From what I've read, this is what's happened so far:
1) Gates blows up, both Chargers and Gates realize that playing this year for $380,000 is ridiculous.
2) Management wants a 5 year deal, at what must be considerably less than Gonzales money. Gates counters with: "No, I want Gonzo dollars!"
3) Management says no. Gonzo says "Fine, I'll play for your relatively low offer, but I want a 3 year deal, so I can be a free agent sooner and get paid what I'm worth, and what I've earned". Management says no, 5 years, sign it and show up or we suspend you.

If Gates WERE to sign the offered 5 year deal, in one or two years, if he continued to be a monster, then we could likely be looking at another TO type of situation.

Playing for the 380,000 tender would be silly as well, since he's risking his entire future for a team that apparently doesn't believe in him, or value his actual worth.

The Chargers are being stupid. THEY are being greedy and looking for the 'deal', when THEY have all of the power. Sign him for Gonzo money, for 5 years. Or sign him on the cheap for 3 years. Personally, I'd be trying to sign him to Gonzo money for 7 years, minimal bonus, and without all of that backloading garbage. As long as he performs, you keep him. If he slips, or is a flash in the pan, you cut him (hence the minimal bonus), or renegotiate. Worst case scenario? They'd have paid him his actual value for LAST season, if he bombs this season.

by Tim (not verified) :: Sat, 08/20/2005 - 6:36pm

Just for the record, Gates has not yet lost 2005 as an accrued season for free agency, as Westbrook would have if his holdout had continued past August 8th. The reason for that is that Gates is not currently under contract. He's an exclusive-rights free agent, which means that he can sign only with the Chargers if the Chargers make him an offer, which they did (the $380k minimum tender). So technically, his not signing the tender does not constitute a holdout. You can't be penalized for refusing to attend training camp if you don't have a contract signed - that's why rookies who are holding out don't show up to camp either.

Westbrook has an additional year in the league, and he was a restricted free agent this year. If he had been planning to hold out of camp, it was really dumb of him to sign his tender, because it was signing that contract that required him to show up for camp to get his accrued season. Not only that, it enabled the Eagles to fine him for missing camp. Because of all that, it was a totally meaningless holdout, since the consequences of continuing the holdout past August 8th were much worse for Westbrook than for the Eagles. It's like a kid threatening to hold his breath unless he gets what he wants.

by skippyx (not verified) :: Sat, 08/20/2005 - 8:00pm

Thanks Tim, you are right about the year of service. Since he did not sign he can just play the last 8 games and get credit.

It is hard to say who is right or wrong since I don't have the offers in front of me but if Gates is being offered solid money as a 3rd year player then he should run with it.

I think they should get creative for years 4 and 5 with provisions that will pay him like Tony G if he is still playing like Tony G.

It might be time to run to the media with figures on this one. If the Chargers are saying take 10 million for 5 years or leave it then their fans might get angry. If Gates is turning down 20 million over 5 years then he should enjoy his 150 k this year and expect more of the same next year.

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Sun, 08/21/2005 - 2:39am

It looks like Gates is going to report on Sunday ... after the deadline. Why? That doesn't make any sense. I guess they wanted to see if the Chargers were serious. Or maybe Gates is fully comfortable with how his agent is handling this.

The article says that the Chargers proposal is supposedly 5 years $20 million. I don't see how one great year makes you automatically worth Tony Gonzalez money. Players usually get the big payday after they've established a consistent high level of performance. Overpaying for one great year is a hallmark of bad management.

by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Sun, 08/21/2005 - 2:40am

Sorry, that should be "isn't fully comfortable."

by Tim (not verified) :: Sun, 08/21/2005 - 3:26am

This seems very much like a failure of creativity in negotiations, and since Gates came out the loser financially (since he signed the $380k tender), I think it's a failure of his agent. I can see no reason why they couldn't have worked out an incentive package of some sort that can escalate the value of the deal from what the Chargers wanted to what Gates wanted, or some sort of void for the last 2 years of a 5-year deal. The mechanics exist in the available parameters of NFL player contracts to pay him like Gonzalez if he's playing like Gonzalez, and to pay him a notch lower if he's not.

by Carl (not verified) :: Tue, 08/23/2005 - 4:57pm

The initial reports contend that a deal has been done: 6 years, $5 million per annum, about half guaranteed.

Andre Colona did a good job, no?

by someone (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 4:37pm

$15m guaranteed? No chance.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:47pm

The linked story says it's a 6-year, $22.5 million deal. There's a $6 million signing bonus, and another $3.25 million roster bonus next offseason, so barring a nasty injury or unprecendented performance decline, it's $9.25 million guaranteed. Not a bad deal, plus he gets to sit out all the preseason games, which is a win for him too (although missing the first regular season game is bad).

by someone (not verified) :: Wed, 08/24/2005 - 5:54pm

Thanks Trogdor. Compared to the other deals the top TEs get, looks like he got hosed good and proper. Less than $4m per year and there aren't any inflated years at the back end of the deal or so it appears - he could have to play out the whole six years unless part of the deal is voidable. And the SB is nothing special.

p.s. wrong again, Carl. Go watch some tape of Deuce McAllister.