The Green Bay Packers played for one of the USFL’s most prolific passers last season.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber, the Packers are signing former New Orleans Breakers standout tight end Sal Cannella to their 90-man roster after welcoming him and three others to a test game on Wednesday, July 20 .
Cannella caught the sixth most passes (34) in the USFL in 2022 and ranked first among tight ends in the league with 368 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games, earning him All-USFL honors. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound playmaker also emerged during the Breakers’ lone playoff game against the Birmingham Stallions, catching seven more passes than anyone in the game and giving up 12 receptions for 154 yards.
The Packers did not have to vacate a spot for Cannella in their 90-man roster because there was one spot left since they fired backup quarterback Kurt Benkert on June 16. He could have a legitimate shot at making the Packers’ 53-man roster, with Robert Tonyan Jr. still recovering from his cruciate ligament rupture last season, and Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara the only other established players in the position group.
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While Cannella made an impression with the USFL earlier this year, you don’t have to delve deep to figure out why Cannella wasn’t selected to come from Auburn during the 2020 NFL draft. He caught just 25 passes in his three seasons with the Tigers and finished his senior year 2019 with the most 188 yards of his career, ranking only fifth among Auburn’s pass catchers. Even with 18.8 yards per reception this season, he only had 10 catches and offered too small a sample size to consider a draft.
However, there were moments during Cannella’s career at Auburn when he showed some good red-zone ability. He had one jumping touchdown grab against then no. 6 Washington during his second season with the Tigers, did a good job passing the defender and coming down under pressure. He also made a touchdown reception on the left edge of the end zone against Alabama in their November 2019 matchup, helping Auburn tie a game they would eventually win 48-45 late in the second quarter.
Even with limited college reps, Cannella could become a win at the hands of an NFL offense who can use his strong hands and good spatial awareness.
The Packers’ tight-end battle for position breaks down as follows: Tonyan, Lewis and Deguara (as a developing 2020 third-round pick) are essentially suspended to make up the active roster while the rest of the field remains open behind them. Normally it wouldn’t matter as much who fills in the fourth- and fifth-string tight end spots, but this preseason is putting more emphasis in the absence of a firm return schedule that Tonyan and Lewis are likely approaching the end of his long-running NFL career approach .
At the moment there’s no reason Cannella can’t claim to be one of those tight ends of the list, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have opposition. Tyler Davis caused a stir throughout the 2022 offseason when Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters they think they “could have something about the 25-year-old” after they released him from the Indianapolis Colts practice team in 2021 had unsubscribed. He helped add some depth after Tonyan was injured in late October and ended up with four receptions for 34 yards on five goals over 121 offensive snaps (13%).
Even if Davis solidifies his roster spot at camp, there’s a chance the Packers will want to carry five tight ends into the season — or four if Tonyan starts the season on the physically unfit (PUP) list. In that case, Cannella has to pull out against Dominique Dafney, who has been with the Packers since late 2020 and has played with 25% of offensive snaps in 2021, although injuries limited 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, who wants to compete this summer for an in-depth role or a role on the practice team for the upcoming season.