Antonio Gates is going to bat for his ex-teammate ... telling TMZ Sports the Chargers need to pay Melvin Gordon ASAP -- and they need to give him Ezekiel Elliott money when they do!!!
MG has been sitting out this season in hopes of getting a fat new deal ... and the Bolts have struggled without him -- going just 1-2 in their first 3 games.
Gates says the solution is just to pay Gordon, telling us when we got him out at Avra in Bev Hills this week, "Melvin Gordon is the answer. They need to get Melvin Gordon back."
As for how much Dean Spanos should pay the star RB ... Gates says the deal belongs in the same stratosphere as the 6-year, $90 MILLION contract that Zeke just got from the Cowboys.
"He means a lot to the Chargers and to our organization," Gates says. "You can sense that as the season gets going, the absence of him is starting to have more effect."
Gates -- the Chargers' all-time receptions leader -- says it's obvious to him the team is really missing Gordon when it gets down in the red zone, saying, "He's big time."
But, don't worry Chargers fans ... Gates says he believes the deal will all get worked out soon, telling us, "I think he's going to get paid."
You hear that, fantasy owners???