Antonio Gates couldn't consider the notion of suiting up for another team.
The San Diego Chargers couldn't stomach the thought of seeing him in any other uniform.
Both sides knew a deal would get done, but that didn't make the reality any less sweet when the tight end officially agreed to terms on a two-year contract.
"This is a dream come true to finish my career in San Diego," he said. "This speaks to how the team feels about me, and vice versa with how I feel about the Chargers. I didn't see it going any other way to be honest. I wanted to finish my career here. I knew it was a difficult task to do because of the odds of a player staying with one team so long. Many of the (all-time greats) in the game have finished their careers elsewhere. There are so many stories you hear when it was the other way around and it doesn't really pan out. But this team and the fans have embraced me. I'm just thankful and grateful for the opportunity to finish my career in San Diego."
What Gates has accomplished over his first 13 seasons with the Chargers is nothing short of legendary. Number 85 is the franchise leader in career receptions (844), receiving yards (10,644) and touchdown catches (104). He also ranks seventh all-time in touchdown receptions, and third among tight ends in receptions and yards.
Despite his lofty achievements, Gates focuses more on the future than the past. While acknowledging his return is a feel good story, he wouldn't continue playing if he still wasn't one of the top tight ends in the game today. Even at 35-years old, he is able to dominate like few others can.
"I don't want anybody to judge me off what I've done in the past, but instead what I am doing," he said. "Either I can get open or I can't. I was getting open when I was 22, and I'm getting open at 35 even with the double teams I face. It's simple. It's not rocket science. It is what it is. Can I still win man coverage battles? Are teams forced to double cover me? Do they have to game plan for me? It may not be as significant as it used to be, but they do. I feel like I can still put myself in a position to help the team win. Either I can do it or I can't, and I wouldn't play if I can't."
Looking ahead is nothing new for Gates. Last year was a trying season for the tight end as he was suspended the first four games of the year. When he returned, he focused fully on the present rather than previous accomplishments. Gates made a statement right off the bat, catching nine passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns including the 100th of his career.
"That was the big thing for me last year," he said. "I take such pride in myself, what I've done and the sacrifices I've made. When I came back off the suspension, I didn't want anybody to judge me off my past and those accomplishments. Your past doesn't get the job done in the present. So it's the same this year."
Gates has always valued production above all else. He wanted to be judged by his output from the moment he entered the league as an undrafted free agent with zero college experience.
"All I've ever wanted was to be judged off of what I'm doing. I asked for an opportunity when I came into this league. I was a free agent and I said, 'Look, don't give me any leeway because I haven't been playing (football). I either can get the job done as a tight end in the NFL or I can't.' That has just been my motto from day one, and it still is."
Antonio Gates has had 104 touchdowns during his career with the Chargers. Take a look at top photos of some of those 104 TD's.