The Green Bay Packers are rolling the dice on one of the most productive pass-catchers from the USFL this past season.
According to Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, the Packers are signing former New Orleans Breakers standout tight end Sal Cannella to their 90-man roster after hosting him and three others for a tryout on Wednesday, July 20.
Cannella caught the sixth-most passes (34) in the USFL in 2022 and finished first among the league’s tight ends with 368 yards and two touchdowns over 10 games, earning him All-USFL honors. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound playmaker also popped off during the Breakers’ lone playoff game against the Birmingham Stallions, catching seven more passes than anyone else in the game and turning in 12 receptions for 154 yards.
The Packers did not need to clear a spot for Cannella on their 90-man roster as there was still a vacancy from when they released backup quarterback Kurt Benkert on June 16. He could have a legitimate shot at making the Packers’ 53-man roster, too, with Robert Tonyan Jr. still recovering from last season’s ACL tear and Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara the only other established players in the position group.
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Cannella Had Understated Career at Auburn
While Cannella left an impression on the USFL earlier this year, it doesn’t take a deep dive to figure out why Cannella wasn’t selected coming out of Auburn during the 2020 NFL draft. He caught just 25 passes over his three seasons with the Tigers and finished with a career-most 188 receiving yards in his final year in 2019, which only ranked fifth among Auburn’s pass-catchers. Even with 18.8 yards per reception that season, he had just 10 catches and offered too small of a sample size to gain draft consideration.
That said, there were moments throughout Cannella’s career at Auburn where he showed some good skills in the red zone. He had a leaping touchdown grab against then-No. 6 Washington during his second season with the Tigers, doing a good job of outreaching the defender and coming down inbounds against pressure. He also made a toe-tapping touchdown reception along the left edge of the end zone against Alabama in their November 2019 matchup, helping Auburn tie a game it would eventually win, 48-45, late in the second quarter.
Even with limited college reps, Cannella could become an asset in the hands of an NFL offense that can use his strong hands and good spatial awareness.
Cannella Should Spice Up Roster Battle at TE
The Packers’ positional battle at tight end breaks down like this: Tonyan, Lewis and Deguara (as a developing 2020 third-round pick) are essentially locked to make the active roster while the rest of the field remains open behind them. Normally, it wouldn’t be all that important who fills out the fourth- and fifth-string tight end spots, but it gets a greater emphasis this preseason with no fixed return timeline on Tonyan and Lewis likely nearing the end of his tenured NFL career.
Right now, there’s no reason why Cannella can’t contend to be one of those rostered depth tight ends, but that’s not to say he won’t have some opposition. Tyler Davis has been generating some buzz throughout the 2022 offseason with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst telling reporters they believe they “might have something” in the 25-year-old after signing him off the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad in 2021. He helped add some depth once Tonyan was injured in late October and finished with four receptions for 34 yards on five targets over 121 offensive snaps (13%).
Still, even if Davis solidifies his roster spot in camp, there is a chance the Packers will want to carry five tight ends into the season — or four, in the event that Tonyan begins the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. In that case, Cannella will have to set himself apart against Dominique Dafney, who has been with the Packers since late 2020 and played on 25% of offensive snaps in 2021 despite injuries limiting his availability to some degree.
The Packers also have Alize Mack — a 2019 seventh-round pick for the New Orleans Saints — and undrafted rookie Eli Wolf looking to compete this summer for a deep-depth or practice-squad role with the team for the upcoming season.