Four of the five longest tenured San Diego Chargers will suit up this season, likely for their last time together. Quarterback Philip Rivers, safety Eric Weddle, tight end Antonio Gates and Wide receiver Malcom Floyd all are in their final year of their contract and it’s likely one or more will not be playing football come this time next year.
Now entering his 12th season as the face of the franchise, record-setting quarterback Rivers is the undisputed leader of the team. Recently, Rivers softened on the stance of not being interested in playing for the Chargers if they leave San Diego. There’s no doubt the team will throw as much money as necessary to keep him in lightning bolts. Rivers took a beating last season behind a patchwork offensive line resulting in back and rib injuries. GM Tom Telesco was busy this offseason re-signing and bringing in players to solidify the offensive line and keep Rivers upright. A new deal should be imminent.
A couple interesting milestones are worth following for Rivers this season. The biggest one is with three passing touchdowns, he will pass Dan Fouts into first place in that category. That record could fall in the first game. Rivers needs five fourth quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives to pass Fouts into first place in those categories as well. Considering those specific feats could happen simultaneously, it will be a curious event to track.
Rivers favorite target, Gates, is entering his 13th season as a pro. Rivers and Gates are the number one quarterback/tight end touchdown tandem as they have compiled 72 touchdowns together. One of the leagues greatest undrafted free agent success stories, Gates is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer for his achievements on the field. Coming into the league after leading the Kent State basketball team into the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA tournament, Gates helped revolutionize the tight end position. Using his size, speed and basketball instincts to his advantage to win jump balls and create space over the middle, gates showed tight end can be more useful than just being an extra blocker that occasionally catches passes.
There are two huge milestones within reach for Gates this season. He has 99 touchdowns receptions for his career. You can be in the stands when he catches number 100. The Chargers begin the season at home against Detroit. With 13 touchdown receptions, Gates will be the all-time touchdown leader for a tight end, passing Tony Gonzalez who has 111. To his credit, he will achieve these milestones in three fewer seasons than Gonzalez. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Gates had 12 touchdowns last season. Gates is likely to ride off into the sunset after this season, handing over the tight end reins to understudy Ladarius Green.
Malcom Floyd is entering his tenth season as another fantastic Chargers undrafted free agent signing. The gold standard for possession receivers, Floyd can claim the second-highest first down percentage in NFL history. In 2011, 41 of 43 catches went for first downs for a whopping 95.3%. At present, Floyd is eight all-time in receiving yardage (4,989). With 593 yards this season, he will pass Anthony Miller into seventh place behind Air Coryell great Wes Chandler. Last season, Floyd led the Chargers in receiving with 52 catches for 856 yards and six touchdowns.
The player Bolts fans lovingly refer to as M80 has stated that this season will most likely be his last. In a recent interview he intimated he wanted to spend more time with his wife and four children. He stated he will decide for sure after the season but the timing looks appropriate being in the last year of his contract.
Eric Weddle is another Chargers lifer who has made the most recent headlines in his quest for a contract extension. He has made his displeasure known and feels ‘highly, highly disrespected’ that the front office has told him they will not pursue a contract extension this season.
Weddle is the defensive captain and locker room leader. Now in his ninth season and just crossing the age of thirty, Weddle has shown no signs of slowing down but of improvement. Statistically, Weddle has improved each of the past three seasons. He’s been voted into the Pro Bowl three of the past four seasons. While feelings between Weddle and the front office are contentious, I expect the All-Pro safety to remain in lightning bolts whether the Chargers extend his contract during the season or franchise him after the season.
These four have been the staples, the hallmarks of the franchise for over a decade. Along with punter Mike Scifres they are the five most senior home-grown Chargers on the roster. They deserve our support and our thanks for their long years of continued service to our favorite team. I implore every Chargers fan to come out to at least one game and voice your appreciation for this amazing group of talents and enjoy as they play together.
One last time.
The Greg One