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!!!