San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates swears he's innocent, but whether that's true or not the likely future Hall of Famer has been suspended the first four games of the 2015 season. How does that affect Chargers futures odds?
Final Season For Gates?
It was announced last Thursday that Gates was suspended for a quarter of the regular season without pay for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing substances. Gates blamed his positive test on "supplements and holistic medicines" he used in an effort to recover from the past season. He did admit that he didn't do the type of due diligence he should have.
"In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails," Gates said in a statement. "I have taken extreme care of my body with a holistic approach and I have never knowingly ingested a substance that was banned by the NFL."
Gates was notified several weeks ago that he was in violation of the policy so it's not like this totally shocked the Chargers. Still, it's a pretty big loss. Gates, now 35, caught 69 passes for 821 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. That latter number tied New England's Rob Gronkowski and Denver's Julius Thomas for the most by any tight end. Gates definitely has a resume for Canton as he has caught 788 passes in his career (fourth all-time among tight ends) for 10,014 yards (also fourth) and 99 touchdowns (second). Not bad at all for a former Kent State basketball player.
Gates will be able to take part in training camp practices and preseason games before the suspension goes into effect. He will miss games at home against the Lions, at the Bengals and Vikings and home to the Browns. Gates will be back for a Week 5 Monday night home matchup against Pittsburgh. Lardarius Green will be the likely replacement for Gates in those games. He had only 19 catches for 226 yards and no scores in 2014. Green was only used on roughly 20 percent of the Chargers' offensive snaps.
NFL odds haven't adjusted San Diego's wins total -- it has remained at eight. Frankly, the only tight end whose absence might affect a win total probably would be Gronkowski. This could be Gates' final season as he is in the last year of his contract and was to be paid $5.9 million (the suspension will cost him about $350,000). Gates pondered retirement briefly at the end of last season.
San Diego is a 2.5-point favorite for the opener against the Lions. It will be a dog at Cincinnati and Minnesota and then a home favorite vs. the Browns. I don't think the Bolts needed Gates to beat Cleveland. But a 1-3 start would be pretty tough to recover from and make the playoffs. Detroit had the NFL's No. 2 defense last season but lost Ndamukong Suh. Cincinnati was No. 22 in total defense, Minnesota 14th and Cleveland 23rd. The Chargers didn't play any of those clubs in 2014.
The Chargers are +475 at 5Dimes to win the AFC West, +170 to make the playoffs and -215 to miss. Gates hasn't missed a game since 2012. The Chargers won that game he missed, 38-10 at home against Tennessee for what that's worth. Gates' replacement that day, Dante Rosario, caught three TD passes from Philip Rivers. Rosario is no longer with the team.
Gates will certainly be missed in the red zone as he had 19 red-zone targets last year. But I think the Bolts will be fine without him. Receivers Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd can raise their games in his absence and I'm a big fan of first-round rookie running back Melvin Gordon. He's my my NFL betting selection for Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite. Bovada lists him as the +600 second-favorite to Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston.
NFL Free Pick: I'd still lean 'over' the eight wins. I say San Diego goes 2-2 without Gates and finishes 9-7 for the second straight season.