Antonio Gates says he's waiting by the phone for NFL teams to call him … telling TMZ Sports he's "ready to play" … and he's definitely NOT retired.
Of course, Gates is a Chargers legend — racking up 8 Pro Bowls, 3 All-Pro selections during his 16-year career in San Diego/L.A.
The future Hall of Famer has been teamless since leaving the Bolts in 2018 … and he tells us he's been staying in tip-top shape in case anyone needs a tight end.
"I'm ready to play if I need to play. If somebody gave me a call, I'm ready. I'm in shape."
Sounds like words from a man who ain't retired … so when we asked if he considered his career over, he said "nah, not really."
Gates says he's down to play for ANY team — not just the Chargers — and he sounds hungry.
If anyone needs a tight end … hit this dude up!!!