The Antonio Gates saga took another surprising turn yesterday when the all-pro tight end agreed to a six-year contract with the San Diego Chargers.

Despite getting the long-term deal he wanted, Gates still has to sit out the final two preseason games and the season opener against Dallas on Sept. 11, his punishment for missing a team-imposed deadline for reporting to training camp.

Financial details weren't immediately available, but Gates had been seeking a deal worth between $4 million and $5 million a season.

On Sunday, Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said negotiations, which began 10 months ago, were "dead in the water."

Gates wanted to be paid among the league's top tight ends following his breakout year in 2004, when, in his second season, he helped the Chargers win the AFC West at 12-4 and return to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons. With defenses struggling to cover the former college basketball star, Gates caught 13 touchdown passes -- a league record for tight ends -- and led the Chargers with 81 catches for 964 yards, nearly 20 percent of their offense.

* 49ERS: Thomas Herrion was remembered as a wonderful friend and teammate at a memorial service for the offensive lineman who collapsed and died after a preseason game last week.

About 500 people attended the service in Mountain View, Calif., including NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, union head Gene Upshaw and all of Herrion's teammates and coaches in San Francisco. Herrion's mother and brother sat near the front along with his fellow offensive linemen.

"He was a good kid," said his mother, Janice. "I'm proud of the man he became. It was short-lived, but I'm proud."

Meantime, Alex Smith will begin his first NFL season on the bench. After struggling in both of his preseason starts, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft was told by Coach Mike Nolan that Tim Rattay will open the season at quarterback against St. Louis. While Smith looked befuddled in going 5 for 16 for 43 yards without a touchdown pass in the first two games, Rattay was 13 of 19 for 194 yards and three touchdowns.

* SEAHAWKS: Veteran defensive tackle Cedric Woodard was released after Woodard missed most of training camp with a knee injury. Seattle also released running back Jesse Lumsden, an undrafted free agent from McMaster University in Canada. To take Lumsden's spot, Seattle claimed running back Josh Scobey off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals.

* CHIEFS: Injured linebacker Mike Maslowski was released, but expressed hope he could someday return. Maslowski's knee problems kept him off the field all last season and part of the 2003 season.

* JAGUARS: Cornerback Rashean Mathis signed a five-year contract extension, keeping him with the team through 2011. A three-year NFL veteran, Mathis has started all 32 games with the Jaguars after being selected in the second round out of Bethune-Cookman in 2003. He is tied with Donovin Darius for the team lead in interceptions last season with five.

* PACKERS: Coach Mike Sherman got a two-year contract extension through the 2007 season. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The 49ers' Alex Smith, above, the top overall pick in the NFL draft, was named the backup to Tim Rattay. "This looks like the right decision," Smith said.